Пучеглазов Василий Яковлевич: другие произведения.

Last Staging

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Поиск утраченного смысла. Загадка Лукоморья
Peклaмa
  • Аннотация:
    The hero of the thriller, a stage-director living in Israel and staging plays in Russia, encounters an actor in Tel Aviv, who was once fired by him from the title role. Invited to visit the actor, he finds the host weltering in his blood, while in the note left to the guest the suicide curses him and invokes death to pursue him. And indeed, death begins to overtake the most needful people of his life in Russia and in Israel-until he hits upon a strange idea helping him to unravel the mystery of the sudden losses, after which he manages to prevent the last catastrophe in the nick of time. The thriller is "backstage" figuratively and literally, because it shows theater from within through the artistic creation of a professional stage-director in his productions of the plays The Seagull and Hamlet. Besides, the analysis of them enables him not only to find his own new solutions of the staging but also to make an essential discovery in the interpretation of Hamlet, which entirely belongs to the author, since both the productions are imaginary, without any borrowing of their ideas and solutions. It is the first novel about such a specific theatrical profession. ABOUT ME: The author is a professional writer and playwright, and in Russia, he occasionally worked as a stage-director in dramatic and musical theaters during thirty-five years.


    Copyright 2015 - 2020 Vasily Poutcheglazov
   

    LAST STAGING
    A backstage thriller
    by
    Vasily Poutcheglazov
   

    CONTENTS

    PROLOGUE
    ACT 1: "THE SEAGULL"
    SCENE 1
    SCENE 2
    SCENE 3
    ACT 2: "LOVE AND DEATH IN TEL AVIV"
    SCENE 4
    SCENE 5
    SCENE 6
    SCENE 7
    ACT 3: "HAMLET"
    SCENE 8
    SCENE 9
    SCENE 10
    ACT 4: "BOOK OF JOB"
    SCENE 11
    SCENE 12
    ACT 5: "DENOUEMENT OF PLOT"
    SCENE 13
    EPILOGUE
   
    *
   
   
    PROLOGUE
   
    The vast green lawns of the park were covered with snow.
    Not that the winter snow in December was a great rarity for me, Russian repatriate after all, but this time it lay in the very heart of Jerusalem, and I saw no snow in Israel till now.
    To tell the truth, it was strange enough to contemplate these white spots on the familiar lawns that spread between the broad many-row highway and the pine grove of the long plateau stretching along the urban meadows from the restricted area around the Attic bastion of the Knesset up to the modernistic building of the Bagatz (the High Court of Justice of Israel).
    Just near this indescribable wonder of architecture, I stood alone in December 2012, surveying the gentle green slopes powdered with snow below and the road animated by heavy traffic beyond the expanses of the snow-covered grassplots, however the object of my primary interest was a quarter of private houses in the distance, on the other side of the endless avenue skirting the open space of the park.
    Thither I wended my way, since the address dictated to me, as it followed from the interactive map of my mobile phone, was located in the tangle of those crooked lanes and blind alleys, among those various one- two-storied grey-concrete shacks, rather unsightly with the white kegs of solar boilers erected on their flat roofs. Even the blossoming evergreen trees of small orchards within the courtyards enclosed with fences of local pale-yellow limestone did not make the town estates looking less shabbily ancient in comparison with the adjacent up-to-date and sumptuous high-rise apartment blocks of the avenue.
    I wouldn't say that there was anything new for my eyes in such a common view, because the first year after our repatriation, my Jewish wife and her pure Russian hubby (as I must remark apropos in justice to my ethnic ancestors) lived in this official capital of the state, in the vicinity of the Central Market, not far off from the aforementioned quarter, though it never entered my head to loiter in the neighboring district, not renowned for any sights-as, for example, the Old City-and relatively cheap flats for tenancy.
    Besides, with the object of saving some amount of hard currency, received from the sale of our decent living conditions in "the country of exodus" and brought to Israel to buy the next fixed abode (naturally, in a place less pious than Jerusalem), I was forced then to combine the pleasure of learning Hebrew at the mandatory five-month courses with the business of my hard slog at the conveyer of a factory of matzo, so the eighteen-hour combination of brainwork and manual labor left neither time to be loafing about nor health for idle rambles.
    It should take into consideration that I was a theatrical stage-director by profession, not a proletarian, till we succumbed at last to temptation of emigration and to the persuasion of our daughter studying jurisprudence in the University of Tel Aviv and found ourselves on the exotic Promised Land, in the celebrated legendary town, where in those days our young son-in-law had been supposed to graduate from another Israeli university before his service in IDF (the Army in words of one syllable).
    *
    Now, it was all over with the then trials, and during the past decade our practical girlie had become a real Israeli dressing in the latest fashion and driving an expensive car. She not only succeeded as a lawyer of a big firm but also presented her husband (currently working as a successful computer programmer) with a charming curly baby of the female sex, who was fairly often in care of her "granny" in the first months of her babyhood-despite the busyness of my fagged irritable spouse in her forties as a Russian teacher of English amidst Hebrew-speaking pupils.
    As to me, God knows, I did my duty in gaining my livelihood to the uttermost: completely bereft of any consoling intimacy in the prime of my life, I was doomed to sit for hours at work and spend my long, sleepless night shifts of watchman elaborating the detailed projects of my possible staging of some selected plays for the future.
    I need hardly say that I intended to implement them when I became free from earning the thrice-blessed hour's minimum wage, which enabled me to contribute my weighty mite to our family moneybox, notwithstanding the absolute worthlessness of my artistic profession in the mass redundancy of the soviet educated specialists repatriated from the same disintegrating country of birth.
    It was cold comfort to observe how such a multitude of the dupes swallowed the bait of "recovering the historical native land" and arrived here was being reduced like me to unskilled manpower, so that I once decided to get out of my unforeseen impasse at all hazards.
    By hook or by crook, I should have returned to my former theatrical creation, seeing that I could feel quite myself nowhere else but on the stage, while in the role of a laborer-plodder I was in effect nothing more than an obtuse ruminant that might have been satisfied with its animal joys of life if it had had anything indeed in addition to its drudgery, sleep, and food.
    While I was serving my time as a slave to duty, I little by little restored my telephone contacts with those Russian theaters, which happened to offer me to stage the plays of my service record in the twenty previous years of my professional activities in a certain number of towns (not to speak of two metropolises with lots of troupes, but with a slender hope to snatch an opportunity because of an excess of freelancers); and via the Internet, I continued to control all my productions and dramatizations bringing the fair royalties to my deposit account in Russia.
    Thus, I was fully ready to changes for the better when the thriving married couple had bought by mortgage their own dwelling and moved there with our granddaughter that already attended day nursery. Needless to say, we heaved a sigh of relief after they separated from us and vacated our modest three-roomed flat acquired by us for cash in one of the municipal boroughs enlarging Tel Aviv as such to a two-million megalopolis, where one always had real possibilities of getting some odd job to eke out one's living.
    As it was to be expected, my cautious helpmate did not express any excessive enthusiasm concerning my plans, chiefly for the simple reason that she was unsure if I could earn the same income in the pretty impoverished culture by means of such a precarious occupation; yet she was used long ago to my frequent absences and travels to the world's end for my fees, and anyway, we never coexisted together otherwise than being entirely engaged in our own different problems beyond the holy wedlock of our bed and kitchen, ever following our incompatible bents for theater and coziness.
    Strictly speaking, what prompted me first of all to commence a new circle of struggle in art in Russia was the increase of my savings on the deposit showing real prospects of potential takings comparable with the subsistence level in Israel.
    I was fed up with my self-denial, and why on earth, I thought, must I reconcile myself to a life of plebs, vegetating in my not full fifty in the tedious rotation of night shifts and day drowsiness in the thick of the bustling city for the sake of some scanty old-age pension subsequently, twenty odd years later, if I had the right to limit my expenses for this subject to a small monthly payment in the National Insurance Institute as an unemployed scrimshanker and again rely on my skill, experience, and fortune.
    No sooner said than done, and it turned out that my reckoning was correct: I had the good luck within four years to visit Russia every theatrical season twice, supplementing our family budget more or less acceptably.
    *
    By the by, my appearance in Jerusalem was just connected with my stage adventures these days, for the address here was given me by an actor, who had been taking part in my rehearsals in one of the theaters a pair of seasons ago and encountered me at the promenade of the seashore in Tel Aviv yesterday.
    Our accidental encounter had not gladden me very much, quite the reverse. While rehearsing that show, as I remembered, I heartlessly used his eagerness to play the chief personage of the drama by way of substituting him for the ill leading actor until the true protagonist was discharged from hospital. In this way, I had been saving the situation with my future spectacle within the definite limits of the work schedule, being aware that such a ham had no chance to be admitted by the management of the troupe and by the Artistic committee (and by me) to the participation in the proposed success-to spoil our collective work with his amateurish clumsily-talentless acting, which was reputedly beneath criticism.
    Fortunately, the worthwhile performer of the title role had joined the others in time and managed to have mastered all the draft of my direction of the play, including the mise-en-scenes built by me with the help of his ambitious understudy who had been fired at once from the role and dismissed from the further rehearsals. Soon after, it was rumored, moreover, that the unwanted hero quitted the scene, where his good offices counted for nothing, and got a job in the sphere of auto-service-to thrive as against his actor's salary.
    It was all the same to me in the sensational apotheosis of the staggering success of that premiere, and as the saying goes, let bygones be bygones, but clearly there were no prerequisites in the biography of this unlucky claimant to artistic glory to be grateful to his deceiver; that's why I did not understand what he meant, showering praises upon my recent productions and inviting me persistently as a "dear colleague" to call on him in Jerusalem in the near future.
    I scarcely burnt with desire to hobnob with any retired artist, especially with one of the Russian repatriates-grumblers loving to pester everybody for sympathy and inveigh against "the nasty tribesmen" that lured them hither on to destruction (true, he allegedly accompanied his wife like me and wasn't one of the chosen people); and I anticipated with disgust his ordinary third-rate histrionics in the melodramatic style of lamenting his ill fate and of expressing sorrow for the loss of his notorious "professional status".
    But I felt somewhat uncomfortable in, so to speak, the context of that incident of the remote past pregnant for him with the ruin of his hopes, so unbearable that he had preferred to bang the door.
    Theater, as a rule, required of me a lot of relentless efforts and remorselessly unbiased purposefulness; therefore, I hardly ever suffered from repentance. I had accepted his invitation rather to clear my conscience than to flatter his self-esteem, having agreed to visit him without unnecessary information of my own address and home telephone number, intending only to pay my respects to the poor fellow unwittingly offended by me, and that's all.
    *
    By my watch, it was time to call him on his mobile, for he asked me to give advance notice of my arrival to him before I moved in the direction of his rented dwelling-place in the maze of the old quarter.
    "It's Paul," I said in reply to his "Hello!" "I'm in Jerusalem already."
    "Where are you?"
    "I'm in the park near-by."
    "I beg your pardon, but I am out of my house now. I'll be back within half an hour, then you may come to me. Sorry, I was detained in one office, and so on."
    "No problem, Max. As yet, I don't hurry. See you soon."
    "Okay, I'm just going home."
    Such was a bad habit of the acting fraternity-to be unpunctual both in life and in art. Small wonder that this conceited bungler destroying all the design and architectonics of his part with the slipshod inexactitude of his doubtful stagecraft, gained by him in some potboilers catering to primitive tastes of public, permitted himself to be late even for the important meeting at the appointed time.
    As I had in view to drop in on another pal in the town in the afternoon, I thought I should keep the good-for-nothing host waiting for a while, too, in revenge and for his edification; whereupon I made for the white field of the grass slope down the wet pavement of the highway-to stamp my feet a little on the new-fallen snow among the romping puny pupils of religious schools shaking their dangling long ear locks in their black garbs and the deliberately-negligent motley-dressed students sporting with noisy laughter and clamor in their joking snowball fight.
    The sons of Israel were undoubtedly one of the most vociferous and effusive nation in the world, and they kicked up such a racket on the occasion of the unique event of snowfall that the thirty minutes assigned by me for my winter pastime had flown by very quickly.
    I spent fifteen more minutes walking over an agglomeration of unattractive tiny mansions in quest of the wanted building and stopped in conclusion in front of a dilapidated concrete hut conspicuous by its rusty metal railings, behind which one could see a short snowy path leading towards the sole door of this wretched erection (probably let for some unmercifully inflated rent, as it was usual in close proximity of the Holy Places).
    The untouched virgin snow of the path differed so advantageously from the sloppy slush of the well-trodden narrow paved roads without pavements, where I slithered at times on the slippery lime-stone just now, that it was a pity to trample down this thawing thin crust and defile this whiteness with the footprints of my coarse hike boots.
    But there was no bell by the entrance, and it only remained for me to raise the steel latch to open the lattice wicket-gate by myself.
    The door was within a few steps of the fence, and I enjoyed every step on the soft smooth snow slightly crunching under my thick soles imprinting their watery grey ovals in the yielding surface.
    After having beaten a new track through the white strip between the tarnished corrugated wall of a long silvery shed and the yellowish blind brick-work of the next fence, I reached the front door and lingered a bit on the dry door-stone under a sheet of red plastic, stamping snow from my boots and inhaling the titillating fresh damp of the not very cold dank air rising from the ground.
    Here I noticed that the steel-plated brown door was ajar.
    I touched the button of the doorbell, but no response ensured from inside.
    Such a situation puzzled me. Suppose he has not returned yet, but who leaves the door of the lodging open in the absence of its inhabitants, even in this quiet islet of communal routine?
    Perhaps the slip had occurred as a result of his wife's heedlessness, so characteristic of Jewish careless attitude of mind counting upon God's immutable favor. Anyway, I was not disposed to mark time anymore and endure his inability of observing the decencies.
    "So I go!" I warned loudly.
    Then I pushed the heavy brown plate and penetrated into the house.
    The gloomy short corridor had a white plywood door on the left and ended with a gaping doorway revealing the part of a squalid room with a battered black mattress lying on the sandy-speckled tiled floor. The couch of repose evidently belonged to the junk that was discarded by the old residents on the street and picked up by the frugal new repatriates to furnish their temporary apartments in the beginning of their happy life in the "second homeland".
    I approached the doorway and, not crossing the threshold, glanced round the room.
    It was a sight for the gods, forsooth. A sooty gas hotplate placed on the besmeared rose oil-cloth of a rickety low kitchen cupboard in combination with a shaky chair with the ragged brocade of its dirty seat were the central luxury goods completing a beggarly bedroom suit. The rest was drowning in the emptiness of semidarkness beyond a strip of weak light from the besmeared ground-level window looking on to the murky inner courtyard, apart from the two packed big checked bags separating the sleeping-place from the dining table.
    The poky room did not look like the residence of a prosperous man, and there was some strange smell of raw meat in the narrow corridor, though I had not descried any food on the cupboard or any kitchen utensils.
    For that reason, the dismally dusky filthy lair seemed somehow uninhabited to me, and I laid hand upon the knob of the lavatory door to examine all the available conveniences from pure curiosity.
    *
    When I slightly opened the door, the unpleasant carnal smell grew stronger, recalling odor of butchery, yet I could hardly discern anything in the pitch dark of a windowless storeroom adapted as a toilet.
    I clicked the switch, but no bulb lighted up inside.
    I tried to put on the light twice and thrice, but without success.
    "Muddle-headedness everywhere," I muttered scornfully with aversion of a fastidious pedant to untidiness, locating with a fleeting glance the second switch.
    Indeed, the electric light from the corridor lit up a piece of the floor before the toilet pan behind the half-open door, and thereupon my eyes fell on a small dark puddle glossily gleaming in the diffusing muted lighting, the puddle giving off this suspicious greasy smell penetrating the whole house.
    "Blood," I determined, foreboding that there was worse to come. "What a pig did they stick here?"
    Next moment, having flinched, I understood, horror-stricken, that "a pig" would have been much better than what was in reality.
    Because at my feet I saw Max's shaggy head, his face buried in the puddle of blood, and then the opening door bumped into his shoulder.
    "Murder," I thought in passing, not daring to take a step inside lest I smear my boots with the slimy jelly of the fresh gore.
    Whereas I was faced with a complete surprise, I looked into the washroom to clarify a matter.
    He was standing on his knees, doubled up and fallen headfirst, his hands tucked under his bent body, stiffened in the pose of a praying Muslim on the background of the blue curtain in a dark miniature shower-room.
    And a bloody pointed spearhead was sticking out of the back of his unbuttoned jacket saturated with blood of profuse bleeding.
    The sudden spectacle was so gruesome and nauseous that I felt sick.
    For all that, I was declining to understand in my loathing why the devil I ought to have gotten involved in this crime.
    To all appearances, someone paid off old scores to him, and by the merest accident, the murder coincided with our appointment, but I was not in the least privy to his affairs, and I did not want to be in trouble with the police by reason of the death of an almost unfamiliar man.
    No, no, let his wife disentangle from all this mess, while I wash my hands of it.
    I nearly turned to go away as soon as possible when my attention was attracted with a sheet of notepaper glued on the white cistern of the pan.
    I couldn't help but read the text written there.
    Leaning on the moist brim of a ceramic washbowl with my left hand and holding on to the doorknob with my right one, I drew nearer to the sheet.
    The note ran as follows:
    "Yes, I commit suicide! And it is you who drove me to despair! May you live to repent of it! May my death haunt you and bring forth death in your life! You're damned, and death will be pursuing you till you die in the same despair! I curse you!
    Max."
    With such an excited tone of the exclamations, the handwriting was very neat, and even the signature was adorned with a fine flourish.
    No wonder that this freak, who could write so calligraphically at the peak of his excitement, had coped with a difficult task of impaling himself on a shortened javelin rested on the floor, which explained his unnaturally awkward pose of a prone worshipper bowed down before the Most High.
    "How he hates her, his wife!" I appraised his heartrending, angrily anguished cry from the bottom of his heart, returning with a jerk to my initial position at the door.
    And suddenly, it occurred to me that his frenzy was addressed not to his wife, and that the epistle was meant for another addressee altogether. For someone who shall be nameless, to be precise.
    "Here's a pretty go," I murmured mechanically.
    In other words, our encounter in Tel Aviv through some quirk of fate had inspired him to devise a subtle scheme of his psychological vengeance on me, and his crazy device was realized today.
    In all probability, the psychopath contemplated suicide for a long time, but by sheer luck, the favorable circumstances afforded him an opportunity to play a dirty trick on me by using his repulsive death that implied my unforgivable guilt.
    Luckily, my name was not mentioned in his scrupulous scrawls, hence it was clear that every reader of his indictment would be lost in conjecture whether he had fallen victim to some unknown unrequited love or reacted in such a way to some family abasement. As regards the latter, it supposedly stirred up his destructive inferiority complex and caused his mental disorder, and all that.
    Anyhow, I was obliged to evade assuming responsibility and the role of a scapegoat; on the contrary, I should have taken precautions against any implication in the abhorrent, absurdly tragic farce.
    Meantime I was very far from standing still and keeping my hands in the pockets in the process of my feverish thoughts, and I was acting with maximum expedience-wiping over the knob of the closed white door and the handle of the open front door with my handkerchief and coming out of the inhospitable house into the narrow passage of the courtyard.
    There was not a living soul in the street beyond the metal fence; so to the wicket-gate I walked backwards, rubbing off my traces on the soggy snow with the heels of my boots.
    Only after I left the damnable quarter and went out to the pedestrian crossing of the highway did I burst out into abuse-in an undertone, but in the most heartfelt swearwords.
    And who would dare reproach me for my obscene sincerity in this instance!
    *
    What the mad avenger predicted unerringly in his prophetic good wishes were recurrences of the impressive scene of his death.
    To give him his due, it was impossible to get rid of the ineffaceable recollection of what I had seen in that pantry-washroom, where his corpse, not yet hardened with rigor mortis, was prostrate on all fours before the altar of toilet pan.
    His face down, he weltered in his blood, resembling a wild boar speared by a hunter-to die in the upshot in its dark lair reeking of carcass meat.
    It goes without saying that such a bloodcurdling sight was engraved on my memory, and that his groundless accusation was imprinted on my mind.
    But I swear by all that's sacred, he had proposed his candidature for the role of his own free will, whereas I had merely taken the opportunity for solving my problems in the rehearsals with the aid of the second cast, as I used to do in order to avoid the cancellation of my premiere if some difficulties with the health of my performers cropped up.
    I never promised him any entrance to the audience in the end of our joint creation of his personage; it was he who had imposed himself on the production group at his own risk, and he had only himself to blame for his inaptitude to satisfy the requirements of artistic rivalry.
    He would have ruined his part for sure and failed in the real trial in any case, and I rather spared him the ignominious catcalls in my spectacle when I readily gave my consent to remove the hopeless unfortunate from the road to success, thereby saving time for the more productive work with the genuine lead, who was expected to catch up with the others without fail and outstrip them afterwards, as I foresaw then, knowing his potential in the acting profession from my preceding experience.
    Generally speaking, I am not responsible for the destiny of any of my actors beyond the bounds of my staging; and if one of them aims, as in the case of Max, at becoming a star of the first magnitude-in spite of the absolute incommensurability of his abilities and aspirations to fame, I shan't presume to judge how great is the size of his talent in principle, but I exercise my right to choose by myself who is the best Thespian for my direction.
    It is as old as the hills in the world of theater, and such are the rules of the game behind the scenes from time immemorial; therefore, I repudiated his accusation against me as a destroyer of his career and considered his unprecedented deed an indubitable symptom of his insanity, especially as, with my professional eye, I had involuntarily marked the shockingly ostentatious manner of his commission of suicide.
    There was something pseudo-classical in his dead body transfixed by the lance, as if I were present in that storeroom at the final scene of one of Shakespeare's tragedies with all their expressive stabs of daggers and swords and with their plentiful bloodshed for effect, concocted from waste products of slaughterhouse (a favorite trick in the Elizabethan epoch).
    Positively, only a man of bad taste has recourse to such a flagrant move in the hope of punishing his enemy for some imaginary harm and inflicts a penalty of death upon himself on this ground.
    It was verily an act of rare senselessness-to fall pierced as a pinned butterfly in its last agony, having kicked the bucket for hurting someone's soul, maybe insensitively callous and cruelly mocking at all elevated feelings and sublime contempt.
    At any rate, I felt no compassion nor pangs of conscience on the score of his arbitrariness in commending his soul to God (or rather to Lucifer), and my own soul revolted against his perfidious bright idea to turn me into a personage of his vile Grand Guignol play, the plot of which he had invented when brooding over his plans of retribution.
    No one knew why he came to his decision to lay hands on himself, yet after it dawned on him that he could apply his idée fixe to his satisfaction, he no longer hesitated.
    No sooner had our chance meeting started up the engine of his imagination than he allowed his fancy to run riot and, squirming and cringing in his hypocritical servility, immediately prepared an equal obsession for my contrition, except that he was obsessed by self-destruction, while to me it was predestined to be haunted by someone else's decease. Apparently, from his standpoint, the proposed acuteness of my penitential regret quite compensated the posthumous character of my day of reckoning.
    He was wrong, however, in one supposition-about my sensitivity.
    The truth is that my pleasing appearance of a bearded good-natured intellectual is very deceptive.
    I am a stage-director, and it means sham as a mode of life in art, otherwise I would never reach any premiere in the surrounding muddle and remissness inherent in the Russian repertory theater that often disregards-in its eagerness to produce show after show without a break-such sloppy sentimentality as respect to artist, even to an authority offering his services to the troupe for a considerable reward.
    I wouldn't call me an unfeeling ferocious monster, but if I deem necessary to sacrifice something or somebody in the interests of my staging, I always do it without remorse and self-justification.
    Most of all I hate to justify myself by the lofty ideals of the sacred art, though I can cut a dash no worse than others, and I don't mind admitting, I pull the wool over journalists' eyes before every first night and after it, painting the general élan of inspiration of my comrades-in-arms with polished eloquence full of many lures for the potential spectators.
    But in actuality, my attitude to the cast is entirely a matter of material.
    Although as an artist, I indulge myself in independent fantasy, and my fertile imagination eventually begets an initial visual image of my future spectacle developing from a sudden insight into some new gist of a hackneyed story-line, nonetheless, properties-scenery-lighting-music-stage effects apart, I have only that set of performers for the realization of my whimsical revelation, which the given theater is able to put at my disposal.
    Since I dislike pedagogy, I take the available troupers irrespective of their capabilities to impersonate the dramatis personae of the play as I dreamt of them, and then, accommodating myself to changeable circumstances, I start to adapt the peculiarities of every artistic nature to my vision of every part, deriving the concrete shape of my staging from modeling this spiritual clay of the talents and souls of all my participants in rehearsals.
    Unless I acted in concert with my players, I could not direct plays, and I ever attached so much importance to our reciprocal cognition and influence that I never had love affairs with the actresses representing any of the personages in the theaters where I put on the plays by mutual agreement.
    It would be shameless exaggeration, true, to assert that such a bloke as I, spoilt by affection of the opposite sex, was always a paragon of virtue and an example of faithful spouse humbly bearing the bonds of matrimony without a thought of infidelity and withstanding temptation, whoever seduced him.
    I confess I have a certain proclivity for the original sin (being extolled in our midst in my student days and censured by an interested party in the years of my marriage); yet, as God is my sole witness, I was wise enough to sink in vice in secret and without my beloved's knowledge, because my occasional adulteries were in essence meant for strengthening our long alliance.
    Perhaps I'm an inveterate lecher and consummate cynic, but anyway, it is better for me to be a womanizer from time to time than to become a woman-hater both in my art and in my family.
    Misogyny threatens every simpleton trying in vain to obtain all the eternal feminine in one mortal specimen, who is liable to inopportunely complaining of her ailment, and whose corporeality is predisposed to gradually altering from her youth towards her middle age; therefore, I resisted any strict monogamy during my theatrical career and cared about renewing my positive impressions from womenfolk as opportunity offered.
    I emphasize the word "positive", for I eschew any risky intercourse with the members of troupe in the period of my work just for that very reason. From experience, I know for certain that she who is singled out by the producer by virtue of her efforts in bed will be exposed to her colleagues' alienation, and that my taking liberties in this delicate topic may have unpleasant consequences, viz. the hidden hostility of the touchy half of the cast (including gays) being a significant factor inimical to success in the world of envy and intrigues.
    So, I repeat-it is a question of fitness to fulfilling some tasks, while the deceased did not suit the role chosen by him owing to his self-assurance.
    The clay, incautiously overestimated its plasticity and aptitude for taking shapes, could not stand its fiasco-such was the sad story of the presumptuous talentless actor given up the ghost in despair in Jerusalem; and, of course, it was no concern of mine, even if this hysterical subject laid his sense of frustration to my charge.
    *
    The foregoing is, naturally, only the summary account of my stream of consciousness after my hasty departure and return to Tel Aviv in that day.
    The flabbergasting dumb show in the shower-room arose now and then before my mind's eye, infuriating me with its irreparable absurdity fraught with danger for me; but to my great surprise, there was no reaction to the dreadful incident in the press and in TV-news, possibly because of Russian origin of the suicide. Among the new repatriates debased by their transplantation on the foreign soil self-murder was not uncommon-as the last way to put an end to their cheerless and pointless labor conscription inevitable for the lower orders. (It was more typical of the aging grafters exhausted by overwork, though.)
    Or, maybe, his wife resorted to someone's assistance in representing his death as an accident in the home, afraid she would be subject to a charge of abetment of suicide.
    At all events, soon my panic somewhat abated as I understood that my misgivings most likely would not come true.
    Besides, I was engaged in preparation for the next staging that lay ahead of me and seemed a challenge to my ingenuity and craftsmanship. I planned to stage The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, which I dreamt about since my studies in the Theater Academy; and this time, at last, I had an appropriate actress for the part of Arkadina in the cast.
    It was the chief obstacle from the start of my professional activities, considering the importance of this character for my essential interpretation of the famous play. Without Arkadina, I refused the very idea of any production of the enthralling psychological drama, categorically unwilling to squander my innermost contemplations on an ordinary entertainment of a cold-blooded artisan.
    The wonder was that the actress for the part of the illustrious actress once played the role of Nina in my student fragment of The Seagull, and afterwards, she became my favorite performer in her municipal theater for many years.
    Withal, she was one of my countless young infatuations one time, and I screwed her on occasion over four terms in the Academy, for then all of us would hump anyone who turned up at the right moment in our promiscuity, defying "Philistine moral" out of bravado and cultivating our frivolously voluptuous amorousness without restraint.
    All those feats of concupiscence well known to every libertine I would have classified as self-affirmation and spirit of contradiction, to spite the laity, so sanctimoniously circumspect by contrast with our defiant dissoluteness; and with time, our struggle for existence in the theatrical world, with hewing out our own nascent careers and waiting in the wings, had licked us into shape and eradicated our unchaste gullibility forever.
    Nevertheless, I had a liking to her as before, and she reciprocated my feelings in word and deed. It was just she who had recommended me for my first staging in the troupe that had recently accepted for a job a married couple of graduates and kept an eye on them, controlling every their step very vigilantly.
    Of course, I did my best to come up to expectation; so after the first triumph, I more than once worked there, always watching over her interests and turning her talent and professionalism to my advantage; however, we never resumed our former depravity, being thenceforth on good friendly terms.
    I dare say that our creation was akin to love, while our love in our early life was akin to our self-creation.
   
   
    ACT 1: "THE SEAGULL"
   
    SCENE 1
   
    A month later, I already consigned the terrible episode to oblivion and flew off again by a Russian airliner-of the Boeing Company-to the familiar big town, which I knew very selectively in the city center, seldom having enough time for any sight-seeing and excursions in my sorties for a new victory in my creation and for oodles of money in my pockets.
    As usual, the process of the new staging differed considerably from all my preceding works, and for all that, it was advancing similarly by the same phases.
    At first, I had to strike the production crew with the exposition of my interpretation of the plot and characters and carry them along by propounding my impressive solution for staging the play.
    Then, I was worming myself into the confidence of my performers, gaining general sympathy thanks to their seemingly spontaneous "finds" in the framework of the objectives being set by me in the hours of our rehearsals and winning their respect by the agency of my irreproachable charisma and imperturbable benevolence of a crafty battle-hardened knave, so irresistible for the masters of acting susceptible to such professional dissembling.
    But when the spectacle was roughly built, I was undergoing a gradual specific transfiguration and growing more and more captious in my demands of an indefatigable fault-finder, even roaring sometimes like a lion at somebody meek, chosen as a target for showing my lion's claws to the others-to fix the structure of our still unsteady construction by the strong will of an exacting demiurge.
    And in the concluding phase, it came the turn of ruling my team with a rod of iron, since now all the actors must have taken their roles as a whole in every run-through and been word-perfect by the premiere at least.
    To my eye, the spectacle was always unfinished in some measure, and the playing of the parts was rather raw, but from a certain point of accumulation of repetitions it would have been useless to expatiate on any themes before the participants, who were eager to see the footlights in such a degree that I could thank God for the date of the premiere not allowing me to delay their stage entrance. The embryo became a baby bursting to be born, and now my task was to help the birth, moderating my nitpicking and striving for perfection without petty zeal and petulance.
    With a sure hand, I was leading my already united cohort towards success through all hindrances and blunders; and I did not doubt that-with whatever fluffs and gags-the premiere would be my absolution and atonement, while without any real performance, I should be accursed and perished as a director.
    Theater, you see, remits your sins, but not your failures.
    *
    To pass from generalities to the present case, I want to add to this that as an artist of repute, I had stipulated for the appointment of my precious Mary to the part of Arkadina in the first cast, though I risked incurring the displeasure of my old friend, the director-general of the theater, who was insisting on another candidature, his protégé and old flame, having unearthed for me a quip "cronyism" for my faithfulness to the cronies of my youth.
    Willy-nilly, I was forced to do some double labor, straining my sole Trigorin, Mary's husband and splendid character actor of my age, and staying far into the night in a small artistic foyer now with my actors now with the scenic or costume designer.
    Enveloped in the cold atmosphere of an uninhabited hall smelling stale, with heavy olive portieres reeking of tobacco of many rehearsals, where a crimson plush settee, an oval wicker table, and several chairs were placed in accordance with the pattern of the scenery, I was sitting, engrossed in my work, at my reading desk with my acting copy of the play, correcting the creation of the parts in our theatrical gobbledygook and at times leaping to my feet to demonstrate to the slow-witted players how it all should have been enacted in the utmost expression, or mostly watching, prompting the text, and playing up to the dames-actresses instead of my tired popular Russian prose-writer worn out by his two middle-aged sweethearts replacing one another in turn and by his young passion without relief into the bargain.
    For the theatergoers, I shall elucidate my approach to The Seagull in a few words. The critics need not read this passage as not wanted, for they will dig out what they will deign to comprehend in any event.
    To begin with, I considered The Seagull the most innovative of Chekhov's plays, and the reason it proved to be out of the common was that the author wrote the play about his own vital problem and did not intend it for the cast of any theater. (As he catered for the troupe of Moscow Art Theater after the raving success of the play, failed in St. Petersburg before, and after Stanislavsky and others of his ilk had established-without malice aforethought, but for a long time-the canons of the due reading of The Seagull and the wishes for the promising dramatist.)
    In flat contradiction to what was written in the original text, the plot of the play was being interpreted as the collision of some reigning retrograde traditionalists and young revolutionary innovators, and now, after a century, I intended to stage the play in its original, because its true theme, which was mine as well, consisted in a fundamental difference between the professional and the dilettante.
    The very play is just devoted to revealing this insuperable chasm and to exposing to light the different peculiarities of existence in art and beyond it; whence comes the set of dramatis personae opposing to each other, and two similar central couples among ordinary mediocrities constitute the carcass of the plot: an experienced leading actress and a gifted young lady conceived the idea of going on the boards; a successful voluminous writer and a self-constituted infant prodigy pretending to be a sublime genius in his initial delusions of grandeur.
    Take the notice that both the neophytes begin as artists in the equal conditions, and that by their childish show on the lake, they are united with one sense of greatness seeking the public confirmation. Both feel lonesome, and their loneliness is the real source and prime mover of their creative energy, so omnipotent that they mistake their interaction in the amateur theatricals for love, the phantom of which the forlorn soul of the proselyte in literature will be cherishing up to his final shot.
    Lonesomeness is the spiritual core of the poetically elevated lugubrious playlet of Treplieff (a mocking parody of the Decadents by the playwright-scoffer in everything else), and Nina, unversed in the actor's art, but obsessed by stage fever, has a rare flair for acting to use this nerve of her monologue brilliantly and advisably.
    Directing her tragically sincere declamation towards Arkadina in the hope of the patronizing help of the prima-donna, she instantly gets discouraged by a sharp remark of Constantine's mama anxious about too fascinated an attention of Trigorin fallen under the spell of Nina's bewitching voice and youthful ardor.
    Without delay, the young reciter directs all her energy towards the impressionable master of belles-lettres straight out, since that bored angler, obviously feeling a need for refreshing his emotions, has been laid by her in reserve as the next variant of her independent move to Moscow against the will of her parents and her entry into theater through stage door. (To err is human: he will be averse to her desire, too, and their forthcoming concubinage will only aggravate her ordeals instead of facilitating her professional debut.)
    To put the disparity in a nutshell, I'd accent the fact that, in contradistinction to the inert weak-willed dreamer rebelling by means of hysterics and suicide, the future actress is ready to strive for her ascension either with support of the venerable celebrity and star of every show or-if the envious spirit of competition prevails over the enjoyment of impersonating a condescending patroness that can easily put a word for the young talent-with the help of the contributing literary luminary, who has a penchant for imagining some naive plots of his touching short stories about the stereotyped "angelic purity" of a lovely happy and free girl viciously destroyed by his sensual alter ego, regardless of the present status of this amorist as a common-law husband of the mother of her romantic admirer and comrade-in-obscurity.
    It must be said parenthetically that Nina's behavior does not pertain to a decent damsel from all points of view, in particular when she, having gripped the audience with her loan stilted eloquence, confesses to her aloneness, as though baring her heart with engaging frankness in recitation, and rouses a confusion of Trigorin thrilling with anticipation of their incipient love affair; or when she blarneys as convincingly as a real hooker, telling him mellifluously and ingratiatingly about her collection of his works-giving her great pleasure every time she reads them anew etcetera-and handing him a medallion with the reference to her unambiguous proposal of herself.
    Although Nina is able to look demure and defenseless in appearance, and her tender heart still goes pit-a-pat quite sincerely, she is none too scrupulous, and it is clear that she intends to make her way in the world without superfluous timidity and, beyond doubt, without shooting herself because of obstacles in this way to the stage-to success-to the desirable position of "famous actress".
    Yes, she is such, and so The Seagull may be read as the play about her first of all.
    But we should not overlook a parallel between the preamble of her career and Arkadina's youth, which are very much alike-with two little disparities: Nina's child dies, whereas Arkadina has an adult son who is discrediting his inimitable and incomparable young-looking mother with his incongruous sullen uncouthness and morbid touchiness of a born unfortunate wrapped in a dismal aura of untalented pretentiousness; the prosperous elder seducer hooked by Nina deserts his comely concubine after the death of their baby, whereas Arkadina had managed to bind her simple-minded Lothario tenaciously with family ties and, to all appearances, inherited something bequeathed by her spouse-actor.
    Still, they both are actresses; hence, each will agree to sell her soul to Satan for her art, doing everything for her right of playing to a house, which makes all their moral philosophy of a reckless disregard of consequences confined within one hard-hearted principle: "Devil take the hindmost!"
    *
    As a matter of fact, Chekhov did not speak his mind on this subject with my forthrightness; quite the contrary, he concealed the true character of his play of ideas in an intricate interlacing of the life stories of his personages unfolding in parallel; but as a stage-director, I had to build the structure of one action that would have included all them and allowed me maximum possibilities to receive irrefragable sound answers to my obligatory "why-what-how-what for?" for each of the performers.
    And at this point, my professionally-inquisitive mind, unscrambling the alignment of the characters in the play taken as a whole, was finding the very lucid development of the theme of one's calling as a sense of life and all the necessary variants of fates, perfectly adjusted to the theme in the distinct disposition of the reciprocally-explainable similarities and diverse antipodes.
    The pair of self-centered artists, always occupied with their existence in professions (which the prolific writer depicts picturesquely to the sympathetic romantic heroine of his future sob story, and the actress exhibits unintentionally at every step), are opposed to such samples of meaningless and stodgy vapidity as the insipid lives either for official duties or for everyday fussy paltriness, either for tight-fisted self-interested estate management or for the art of living for pleasure, either for so-called love turning into marital infidelity or for bygone infidelity becoming belated love.
    What else but the unbearable emptiness of the lots of the opposing side does push the two young doubles of the ripe artistic pair to try their luck in the same kinds of art, and just their activities is starting up the mechanism of the action of the drama-to impel the others to act more or less vigorously.
    It was the key to my treatment of The Seagull as a breathtaking fight under the guise of innocuous pastime in the country.
    The beginners can hardly imagine the immense volume of difficulties of skill and self-determination awaiting them in their professional lives; that is why they nourish an unfeasible hope to soar in the twinkling of an eye to the empyrean of pure creation and attain eminence at the same time.
    It seems to them that, under favorable auspices, they would dexterously cope with all the tasks of art for art's sake and begin to mint new and new masterpieces without let or hindrance; they opine therefore that all flops befall them through no fault of theirs, but as the pernicious aftermath of the stagnation of tastes in the society and as derogating their achievements by the deliberately incorrect animadversion of the retrograde professionals steeped in a rut of triteness and hackwork, who are, in view of their haughty artiness obstructing progress, prejudiced against the spurned innovators questioning their scale of values for exploding all their smarming cliché-ridden art.
    In the time of Chekhov no one could envision the fierce system of oppressing and ousting the artists that would be formed by the Soviet rule in Russia in 20-th century for its ruthless selection; and unlike the future ideological coercion of total political censorship, the autocratic regime of that epoch still did not demand from the creators to abjure their errors in creation and recant their heresy under threat of repression and obliterating themselves.
    No, no, the vainglorious self-assertive writer can freely publish his pearls and write for a living, while the self-taught actress can freely play some roles before the footlights of the small Summer Theater, albeit with the consent of her impresario and the leads; so their chief impediment to their aspiration to fame and to entering the art elite is their own faculties and capabilities (or, maybe, lack of talent and steadfastness).
    According to the scheme of the action, they set the plan of their entry in motion forthwith after raising the curtain (there was no curtain, by the way, in our production of the classic play mounted lavishly enough).
    In the beginning, nothing betokens any tragedy in ensuing events, and the style of narration in fact looks like making fun of domestic drama and melodrama together, including a typical "unrecognized genius", who is fulminating verbosely against the trivial contemporary realistic theater and vilipending the degraded shallow-minded literature, but this notwithstanding, presents only the first fruit of his own recondite writing in his twenty five years; yet, all is changing after the appearance of Nina on the platform on lake shore.
    It is no matter what part she has got to prove her worth to these two high-ranking connoisseurs who chanced to watch her on the stage in the play of a sort, that is, in some bombastic re-telling of popular speculative brochures-without love, without intercourse, without effective denouements. She must produce an impression on them with any unactable material at hand as she has conceived it; and be sure she shall impress-if not the mincing-prinking expert of affectation, then the abstracted self-absorbed literary man, whose surfeit of his public alliance opens hopeful vistas before a sufficiently qualified temptress that will venture to throw down the gauntlet to his guardian angel supervising the libertinism of her prestigious lover.
    Let's not forget that Trigorin is about six-eight years younger than his "honey" at the acme of his career in his thirty five-thirty seven, and he had no experience of wooing the girls with wistful smiles in the penury of his working youth.
    Just the episode of the theatricals suggested to me that the staging would require some means of cinema, for example-close-up and montage of frames.
    Chekhov likes to hide the decisive moments of the plot in seeming insignificance, and I enlarged them, singling out the most important by changing the lighting from "natural" to spectral-with the circles of spotlights encompassing the faces of those who strike up the more intimate acquaintance at present-and by reducing the lively tempo of the action being urged on by the exaggerated concentration of all the personages on their own self-analysis and problems, as it is accepted in comedy.
    It stands to reason that the setting quite matched my idea of obtaining "sense of life" in art and buying fame at the cost of converting one's life into profession without yielding an inch to any unoccupied space of soul.
    Upstage, on the background of the boundless firmament, there was a gigantic gilded stairway, covered with a long red carpet and decorated with such gold Cupids that held laurel wreathes for triumphers along the endless flight of steps descending from the gaudily painted artificial heavens to the doll's manor house of a tiny estate in the middle of a lake-marsh surrounded with green rush.
    On drawing curtain, this night slough seemed to be offering its idyllic swampy paths of the glinting moonlight-to bog down into the stagnant mire; therefore, the mutinous supercilious anchorite strutted about squeamishly in his rubber waders in summer sultriness. In the course of the show, the estate slightly rotated sometimes and got visible in its new opening interiors, as though floating on the slime of the silted lake so that its motion in a circle would move the continuous action even in musical pauses and create the constant atmosphere of some fluctuating unsteadiness of all this reality.
    Down the stairs of glory come Arkadina and Trigorin into the morass of the trifling life of laymen alien to them; at its foot collapses Nina's affection for Treplieff, whose decadent high-brow rubbish had given her a chance to shine in showing her potentialities and, what is more, to excite the curiosity of the celebrated influential man of letters to her young fascination and longing for a kindred spirit.
    It may not be amiss to make an amendment to my description of the enterprising enchantress.
    The pretty girl is not a sober-minded seeker after her profit or a huntress for a good match of marriage of convenience-she simply follows her lodestar on her beginning way in conformity with the situation, and she definitely has extenuating circumstances in her unattainable goal and slender means.
    Indeed, she ought to seek her fortune after her mutually beneficial flames of creation together with the brawling discredited lyrist-bankrupt has proved a vain hope, while her belief in the feeling of solidarity of the professional actress has faded away with the first broad hint for her infringement on the rights of the jealous proprietress.
    She entertained some nonsensical false ideas about artistic brethren, and today her magical myth was shattered by the utter failure of the performance and by the enmity sounding in the subtext of the praises, which the hypocritically unctuous priestess of the voracious altar of the stage lavished upon the credulous contender.
    *
    As to the heroine, her line of conduct is determined with her advancement to her great ambition to be an illustrious actress, and the true cost of her halting entry into the rank of voluntary Harlequins and Colombine gets known in the last act two years later, when the same company gathers with its full complement in the same place after a radical metamorphosis of its four young members.
    But now, they are passing pleasant evening in the boggy dimness of the watery twilight in rainy autumn, as if in the depth of the surrounding quagmire oozing through their flimsy reality-to swamp the lives of those who cannot go upstairs to self-creation in self-immolation of art as Arkadina in the end of the previous third act.
    Then, again climbing to the top, she withdraws from the dangerous bosom of nature undermining her uncertain possession of one unstable personality, whereas Trigorin drags behind her with his fishing rod and throws sidelong looks over his shoulder at Nina following him up the tinsel splendor of the festively glittering gold steps that lead her away from her sinking past.
    In the next scene abutting on the above, Nina steps timidly into the familiar room out of the dusky greenish abyss of the marshy life, and she looks very shabby and miserable with her wet hair clinging to her forehead while she wraps herself, shivering, in her threadbare cloak plastered with mud after her straying somewhere around the homely illuminated house and splashing her way through the impassable slush of cart-roads and meadows.
    Hither she has come, hungry and half-drunk, to glance for the last time at her antecedents before she plunges completely into her selfless devotion to her vocation.
    She is here to cut all of it off and continue her ascend to herself-actress, though it is very painful to her to break with her only youth in her twenty, kicking her loved first man out of her life for good, to say nothing of her unlucky rejected suitor, safely settled down here in his cozy den to write to the top of his bent in the out-of-the-way ramshackle manor of his uncle.
    Yet she is no longer an innocent bonny lass from lake, whose bloom was sacrificed to the inquisitiveness of her unreliable double-dealer betrayed her hopes by his regarding their "amour" as one of the delights of life; she is neither a victim of any destroyer nor an abandoned mistress crushed with misfortunes; she is not the seagull that was shot by the idling unrecognized trailblazer for no particular reason and suggested the idea of a new story about a seduced damsel to the thrifty fiction writer; no, she is already what she must be, and she is ready to bear her cross, including not only her hardship and destitution but also her harlotry for the sake of her engagement for the next season and of good parts-in order to tread the boards further and further, as Arkadina did it on her way to fame.
    And the author adduces the most cogent proof of her transformation.
    Before leaving her past, she remembers that playlet of Treplieff and again quotes its fragment in passing, but now with irony and compassion as an actress playing even her real feelings; and her parting masterly recitation unintentionally clarifies the factual position of the luckless author in art. He understands that her playing is just what imparts any worth to his first and best creation, and that such a mediocrity as he is will never deserve the love of this talented second edition of his mother.
    Mark you, Arkadina has arrived in the estate in the midst of the theatrical season not without reason, but in the connection with the forthcoming death of her old brother. She will have inherited all his property, which means that very soon Treplieff will have private means to live in Moscow, if he wants, and in essence, he has no objective reasons for despondency, except his dissatisfaction with the quality of his own literary writings. He was watching Nina's scenic attempts in those two years, and he was sure that she couldn't recover from the death of her child and overcome the amateurish level of her actor's art, remaining the same unfortunate in her creative work, as he was in his, therefore her unexpected high performing craftsmanship in recitation of a short fragment had staggered him in his habitual conciliation with himself in his vulgar philistine life here with someone's infidel wife as his mistress and some comforting publications of his tales in Moscow.
    For she has become an artist among the other artists gone through the crucible of sore trials on the approaches to their professional careers; meanwhile, the new-fledged man of the pen has cowardly renounced the world and evaded any peril in his seclusion far from any combat zone.
    When Nina goes away from the lowland of her "salad days" up the stairs and, as though hatching out of the falling cocoon of her bedraggled muddy cloak, stalks to the tawdry vault of heaven not in her former airy white, but appareled as a chic diva in a smartly-luxurious, clinging scarlet evening dress with a train trailing after her on the triumphal red carpet, Treplieff, his eyes riveted on her fiery figure, follows his vanishing dream, dropping on the way skywards now some magazines with his published works now the sheets of his manuscripts and plucking the laurel wreaths from the gold palms of the Cupids.
    Meantime the miry murk is rising after him mumbling his meaningless words; and by his stop before the blue blank wall of the artificial firmament closed for him, all the stairs are flooded with darkness.
    There he stands wobbly at the sealed gate of the meretricious Paradise, a hapless scribbler, a despondent weakling, a diffident feeble offspring of the go-getting talents, until, to the increasing demoniacally-taunting music, he lifts up his hands with the rings of wreaths in a despairing gesture of an appeal for justice to the Almighty, being crucified for a fraction of a second against the light of the painted clouds of the seventh heaven as an embodiment of "Woe is me!"; and here, the festive radiance suddenly explodes as a dazzling flash of lightning, and a deafening thunderbolt precipitates the remains of the scenic empyrean into the obscurity of non-existence.
    The God's verdict has been pronounced; the Last Trump has blared; the final shot has cracked out. Nothing venture, nothing win-such is an epitaph to a suicide in our art.
    So, as I saw it, there was a kind of tragedy of fate under the veil of tragicomedy, but, of course, it was by no means the weak-spirited "softy", resigned to his doom and forfeited his self-respect in collision with himself, who might have pretended to be a hero-protagonist of this ancient tragedy; and the subtle playwright gives us a very intelligible prompt in the pause after the last words of the text before the curtain.
    For it is obvious that the suicide of her only child will be a deathblow and a mortal wound to the mother, however hard she tried to grin and bear it, habituated to sustain and overcome all her ups and downs.
    She is forty five years of age after all, that is she has reached the age-limit for the roles of heroines in those times, and her inevitable despair will ruin her life, inasmuch as she will be unable to play on the stage in the beginning theatrical season, while her disability spells troubles for her impresario, who will be forced either to cancel some performances or replace her with another "leading lady" at the eleventh hour.
    The rotation of theater is too ruthless, and the ascension of a new star entails the overthrow of the present one.
    Sadly, but her politely-complaisant distinguished companion will behave towards his sweetheart-sufferer in the same way, since he also hates all troubles hindering him from working and immediately takes French leave to avoid both any nerve-racking atmosphere and sharing in someone's grief-so as to remain a watcher recording facts and occurrences for producing new and new stories from them in his creative survival.
    And I am filling the final pause.
    When the doctor, having informed the selectively-forgetful storyteller about the fatal incident, half turns to Arkadina, who sits at the card-table under the claret-colored silk cope of a big lampshade casting the sinister lurid light on her face, she, guessing what happened, slowly rises from the table, opens her mouth, gasping for breath, and then, all at once, utters a wild cry, a cry that is swelling endlessly and turning into the blinding lifelessly-white flame enveloping all the space of the stage; and the room, the house, the lake, and the lives of the personages disappear in the blazing wail of this conflagration.
    Then there are full darkness and dead silence everywhere, and the rest is, naturally, loud applause and curtain calls.
    In a word, art demands sacrifice, while I agree to be satisfied with a simple howling success.
   
    SCENE 2
   
    Thus, I have come to the point.
    I could find an actress for the role of Nina in every troupe, because virtually every dramatic young actress was such Nina to some extent, but the part of Arkadina required the exceptional stagecraft and knowledge of the acting profession, and that was another matter altogether.
    Throughout the play, Arkadina fights her all-embracing battle for her present status and level in her art, and the habitual constant vigilance of a watchful toughened fighter is implied in all her behavior and deeds. Her congenital kind-heartiness and mercifulness are always under hard control, that's why she is moved to tears by the suffering of her wounded son-epigone, yet she won't lend him a cent from a tidy sum of her savings put by for her wardrobe, for her rooming-house in the capital and her expensive apartments of hotel in the provinces, and for a rainy day when her mode of life saps her strength, and she is compelled to quit the scene.
    She knows the seamy side of life, learned by experience that she can count only on herself in her lifelong struggle for existence on the boards; and as a cover of her unremitting self-preservation, she uses her carefree idleness and professedly impulsive capriciousness, so characteristic of a favorite of fortune.
    She proves her sharpened skill once-in the melodramatic episode of her brazen flatter to the vainglory of Trigorin, who has been deceived in her comradely attitude to him in their long cohabitation and has the effrontery to ask her blessing upon his passion for this young cheeky coquette blatantly flirting with him now from the stage now behind her back. She should kill him on the spot after his personal insult to her, but she needs his figure in her entourage. Being in quandary which maneuver is better to retain her friskily pawing racehorse in harness, she, as a true actress, incidentally opens the book of Guy de Maupassant, which she had been reading in the first act, asserting that in Russia women never say such things to men, and as though quoting its text by her behavior and peeping into this practical instruction behind Trigorin's back, she extols him to the skies as an excessively self-critical genius of contemporaneity, inveigling him into the continuation of their alliance with the aid of her sure-fire cajolery borrowed from the observations of another writer. (According to Chekhov, the rifle hanging in the beginning of the play must fire, and, as it turns out, this book "fires", too, in the hands of the stage-director attentive to detail.)
    And once, she bares her teeth of an uncompromising artist-when her sonny-wiseacre touches on the sphere of her profession, within which she takes no account of any blood relations and declares her hard-hitting opinion straight from the shoulder. Even a tinge of powerless conceit or profanation enrages her and makes a shrewish termagant of this light-hearted charmer; and in the heat of moment, she subjects pretensions of dilettantism to slashing criticism, except for the case of her dependence on the author of some abstruse trash.
    Unlike the laity being wont to consider themselves great and perfect by birth for lapsing into heresy of "self-expression", Arkadina quite understands that nothing but new concrete tasks of creation give every artist all real possibilities of self-realization, because, as she is convinced, every innate talent is a spiritual seed sown in some soil to sprout and yield a harvest that doesn't equal the original seed.
    For the initiates, their art is the process of their self-discovery, alias self-knowledge, and the watershed between the professional born artists and the turgid laymen passes just there.
    To sum up, Arkadina must be impersonated by the performer of this part in such a way that the audience will see what she is essentially behind the shield of her ostensible flippancy as an unworldly sorceress of protean stage incarnations, seemingly maladjusted to the pragmatic vanity, and how she has become such a strange creature standing her imitation of genuine emotions and the influence of her feigned feelings on the public above all.
    Mary was really able to implement all my plans and directions, painstakingly fulfilling all my tasks difficult of accomplishment. With her proficiency, she sensed some thin line between grotesque and caricature, substantiating the sharpest variants of her acting wonderfully and building her part as a sparkling firework of whimsical emotionalism and flaunting artistic finery bubbling with high spirits on the steel frame of a steady and stubborn character schooled by adversity.
    Her Arkadina was a strong personality and indisputably-great consummate actress showing her greatness incidentally in a few passing remarks and references to her theatrical reality; accordingly, with flappable valetudinarian Treplieff sensitive to the slightest banter on his attempts at hovering in the zenith of his glory as a creator of "new forms" and with chummy mildly-callous egotist Trigorin collecting impressions and fates for recasting life into his prose, I moved without hiccups towards the successful premiere.
    I omit my annotations concerning the other players, suffice it to say that all of them were, by and large, not bad and properly prepared actors and actresses (truth to tell, so I could estimate the overwhelming majority of my performers in the theaters which I collaborated with during a quarter of a century); and I was trying to derive their utmost from what they were capable of, as my profession, by definition, prescribed to me.
    I'll avoid dilating upon the subject of my elucidation of each role or going to details, for there are many self-evident things in the play, such as the alarming vulnerability of Treplieff, starved of affection and encouragement (anyway, he is much to be pitied, this ill-fated, childishly-forlorn artistic nature seeking love-of mother, of girl, of public-but not finding even himself), or the maniacal love-sickness of Masha that resembles her mother's obsession with hedonist Dorn and likewise remains unquenchable after her adultery with the ungifted man of letters lovelorn, too.
    Chekhov gibes bitterly at the narrow-mindedness and poverty of ideas of the common man's life, blowing up its course with unexpected culminations; to my lot it fell thus to disclose the clear-cut structure of a tragedy constituting the skeleton of The Seagull.
    Without false modesty, I can assert I have discovered new solutions for the visual shape of the whole play and for its dramatic content in every line of the action and in every episode.
    For instance, the litterateur-amateur buried in the God-forsaken place was always escorted by his cabinet piano (or rather, it might be called "clavichord"), which was his sole true friend and the safety valve for the feelings of his ungovernable temper and fevered imagination (unfortunately, lacking in creativeness and multiplying platitudes instead of innovative revelations).
    In the scene of his insolently ridiculous dramatics, he accompanies the monolog of the World Soul (not altogether incorporeal, to his regret) on the piano, playing the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, and slams the lid abruptly in response to the unceremonious irrelevancy of an ironical small talk about his innermost fantasy.
    In the episode of his clash of views with Nina, in gnawing pangs of jealousy, he time and again rushes to the instrument-to play what he feels, but hesitates to express, in the fitful passages of some modern composers, from impressionists (the stale Swan by Saint-Saens) to avant-garde (to wit, Scriabin); whereupon the artless provincial, being on edge as it is, grows as cross as two sticks and in essence refuses him because of his analysis of her aloofness after the complete flop of their show, too sophisticated in his opinion for the smug tactless supporters of rigid tastelessness.
    When the lenient good-humored epicurean-doctor, with medical equanimity, eulogizes his lyrical gift for creation of poetical atmosphere (what else the old philanderer needs to be enraptured by poetry but the ravishing view of a raving young beauty in white on the moonlit summer lake; and perhaps, the idol of the local wantons remembers a liaison with his mother in days of yore, not advertising any carryings-on, and has a soft spot for the pampered delicate youth, whom the country physician treats from his tender years, and who arouses certain mixed paternal-homosexual sentiments towards him), the failed dramatist is tapping his fingers on the polished board of the open piano to rhythm and suddenly bursts with some chaotic bravura music of his own improvisations.
    And after his attempt of suicide, in the key-scene with his selfish mummy, Arkadina interrupts his dolefully melancholy playing and begins to play the melody of a cheerful quadrille to invigorate him with the reminiscences of the times when it was his adolescent privilege to perform this melody for her boisterous artistic company. Forced to continue her original solace and consumed with envy, he accompanies her hilarious devil-may-care dance with a louring expression, and they carry on their dialogue in manner of a rollicking song.
    In the process of this uproarious gaiety, the vigorous actress-being still at the top of her form and even turning cartwheels among her other frolics in the episode of the demonstration of her youthful appearance to sluttish blowzy Masha-gradually gets more and more angry with the mute lamentations of her crest-fallen, annoyingly-sulky ninny, while he is getting irritated with her inappropriate girlish vivacity exacerbating his self-pity and has no inclination to condone her farcical hypocrisy. Thereupon feelings run high (to her increasing unvoiced leitmotif: "Don't get ratty with me!"), and as usual, their quarrel, having flared up, ends with his hysterics. He is banging his fists furiously on the piano-keys; she is soothing and coaxing the fractious baby by means of humoring his musical dismal predilections.
    The same compact clavichord also figures in the last act, and Treplieff at times unburdens his soul in playing on it his free variations of some excruciatingly sad adagio. But the instant he opens the piano after Nina's exit, the instrument blazes up with icy infernal fire from inside in his face, and the keys, thrown out with an explosion of rejection, scatter rattling all over the room, uttering a long harsh screech with a tinny twang of broken string at its peak.
    Henceforward, the outcast brawler has no bosom friend to listen to his confessions in Weltschmerz. In utter despair, he rakes up his archives and takes the first step towards the imaginary stairs leading nowhere.
    *
    Reverting to the question of my Arkadina, I would particularly lay stress on her physical state. The fault of all the performers I saw was that they devoted little attention to her announced credo and cast of mind; meanwhile, as every good actress, she is well aware that she has one and only instrument in her art-her own body.
    In her age, she does not permit herself to be out of condition, otherwise her muscles, or vocal cords, or eyes, or face, or fingers may fail her at the crucial moment; consequently, she must perpetually train her acting apparatus from top to toe without any concessions to the situation and her laziness.
    The method of her overarching customary training is such: she plays her life while living it, which gives her both professional skill and liveliness of reflexes and reactions at the same time. She knows no instant of inactivity with the best will in the world, because she is an actress to her fingertips, without any other half of her individuality, such as caring mom or housewifely spouse; and she cannot help performing herself in various proposed circumstances, not to mention the direct impressions of her real theatrical work and scenic triumphs.
    Just imagine what objectives my conception of her role had in store for my dear Mary (agile and lissome enough in her age and with her title of "National Actress") if I wanted her to create two more layers of her existence being visible through the superficial one of current events, with a view to showing her sustained effort to resist the inexorable course of time, which she made despite everything under her waggish whimsicality and effervescent joie de vivre.
    And this smart wiry hussy of my youth, thin in the face and infallibly accurate in every movement, gesture, and intonation, always accomplished my wishes splendidly and beyond expectation, existing in her part in the three dimensions-of real life, of playing spurious sentiments, and of constant severe self-control at once-and portraying her eccentric and outwardly impulsive actress as a woman of sober judgment and efficient gumption.
    The remarkable range of her gift and the wide scope of her mastery were some additional incentive to my extremely intensive work and some Pierian Spring conferring inspiration to my imagination; therefore, I was being incessantly spurred by my creative ambitions, apart from the limitation of time.
    And as ever, I noticed neither the standard décor of my cold single room in the hotel with its plain furniture-bed-table-chair-wardrobe-coat-peg-hardly worth describing, nor the winter snowy weather (maybe very marvelous, but not for me hurrying through the snowfall or whiteout to the Empire style building of the theater) in the everyday urgency of multitudinous troubles and multifarious problems of my staging confined with the date of the premiere.
    By the dress rehearsal, I was quite certain of success, unless someone of the cast went down with flu or, God forbid, fell victim to some accident. But for such hypothetical reasons, I was anxious during all my work on the spectacle, since the people of the stage are very superstitious, and I was no exception.
    Nevertheless, there were many incomplete things and details of properties and scenery in the stalling and lagging theatrical shops, so on the eve of the last technical run-through next day after the sufficiently-tolerable dress rehearsals (of the first cast-in the morning and of the second-in the evening), I was busy with whipping on the stage-painter and the costumier to finish the setting to the tomorrow's fixing of the production ready for presentation.
    Together with the shock-headed, thickly-bearded property-man, I had tested the functioning of his sham piano shooting its light foam-rubber keys in the end, and I was about to leave the practically deserted theater when in the small lobby of the stage door I bumped into Mary going out of the cloak-room curtained off from the nook of the watchman's table with a ubiquitous plush portiere.
    She had her fox fur coat on and carried her ginger stylish fur cap with large ear-flaps-to put on before a big mirror beside the entrance, which was not out of the place, considering the frost outside that had set in with the return of winter blizzards in the first days of March.
    "What's the trouble?" I asked her amiably. "Why on earth are you sitting here instead of a good night's rest?"
    "First-night nerves," she rebuffed my fatherliness in a flash.
    "I take it on trust, but you shouldn't walk alone so late."
    Watching her pulling the flap-eared fur cap on the auburn bobbed hair of her beautiful head with the finely chiseled features, I added:
    "There are villains everywhere, and they love to offend the poor little girls returning home in the dead of night."
    "Well, you may see me to the bridge," she easily divined my intention. "Or else I'll never get rid of you."
    "I'm a well-known pest, you're right," I said, opening the door before her. "Then forward, mademoiselle."
    "Sycophant," she parried, passing by me. "What foul weather tonight!"
    Her last exclamation was caused by the freezing gust that lashed her face on her exit out of the porch.
    "So, you need solitude and cannot find it," I remarked already in the gloom street, wrapping myself tighter in my short anorak, too thin for Russian fierce winters, and raising its hood trimmed with black fur.
    "But I find chatterers wherever I go," she answered not without sarcasm. "I hope not to talk about my work at least with you."
    "As you wish, my skittish lady. I am dumb and deaf to all entreaties to make a reprimand to National Actress," I agreed respectfully.
    "I should feed you with snow," she pronounced pensively. "Yet I fear to transgress the subordination."
    "Why not?" I pointed at the heaps of dirty snow by the roadway and at the white snowdrifts on the open spaces of lawns and squares. "There's enough snow in the town. In other words, your Trigorin bothers you with his nuances."
    "Precisely," she confirmed with a derisive reproach in her voice, hiding her face behind the ear-flap pressed with her palm in a woolen glove, since a sprinkle of snow again and again began to fly in the cold air, alternating with slight sleet, though the snow-storm had abated for the time being, and we could force our way without sinking to the knees into the impassable banks.
    "Indeed, even lovers can't endure each other without respite," I approved her wise decision to rest from her partner in life and art.
    "If anything, I have much more garrulous one to shun after the dress rehearsal."
    This remark was a dig at me with my insignificant amendments, which the actors in their final readiness could scarcely take in.
    "Although your shunning stings this one to the quick, there's a grain of truth in your appraisal of his garrulity. But otherwise I would freeze to death here."
    "Like hell!" she countered instantaneously. "Such a hardy fellow rather exhausts all the others and drives a nail into his cast's coffin, than snuffs it."
    "There's no gainsaying it, you're again right."
    Bandying such chaffs, we went on trudging on the friable snow along the shining, variegated honeycombs of the multi-storey building estates with brightly lit broad shop-windows and many-colored neon signs on the facades above them, indistinctly visible through the flying hatching of flitting snow all over the blocks of the avenue and the whitish night sky in the vistas of the streets intersecting the central arterial road.
    "It's good that I live not far from the theater," Mary summarized her climatic observations, leaning on my arm and breaking the crackling sludge-ice of the next frozen puddle with the platforms of her winter wedge knee high boots.
    "Still better that not many cars are riding in this slush," I enhanced the positive mood of my incurable optimist, shaking off a fair portion of the snow-broth, splashed up on me by one of the hastening cars, from my trousers. "Are you sure I may leave you on the bridge?"
    "I will return home this way every day," she reassured me. "Don't worry, I shan't go astray."
    It would be really difficult to stray from the path of virtue there, for the so-called bridge was a simple slab of concrete spanning some deep ravine, and the five-storied bulk of Mary's house already loomed on that side, dimly smoldering from inside in the lit windows.
    "What if you slip on the ice?" I showed precautionary solicitude.
    "There's no knowing what may happen," she dropped a transparent hint at my importunity, manifesting a desire to leave me to the mercy of fate and cross the bridge without any interlocutor.
    At present, she was in the state of her extreme concentration and seemed to carry herself as carefully as a brimming chalice in order to bring her role to the opening night without spilling a drop.
    All things considered, it was most reasonable to part with my unmatched Arkadina and let her have a short stroll in solitude.
    "Okay!" I surrendered, stopping at the crossing. "Tomorrow, I wait for you with all your meekness."
    "Wait with fear and trembling," she demanded, releasing my arm.
    "Just so. See you anon!"
    I waved my hand at parting and thrust it into the pocket of my jacket for my cell phone.
    "God helps those who help themselves," I thought to myself, following with my eyes her neat svelte figure getting more and more indiscernible and evanescing in the density of the sheet of snow, because now the snow was coming down in flakes.
    Having dialed a number, I made for my hotel up the same street, but in the opposite direction from the town gully, already vanished in the whirling blizzard.
    Shielding my face from the biting wind with the stand-up collar of my waterproof parka, I telephoned Mary's husband by the name of Peter (or my Trigorin by his part) to inform him of the delivery of his freedom-loving spouse to the boundary bridge.
    Apparently, he had dozed off pending her return and only mumbled some gratitude in reply, so that, with a clear conscience, I proceeded towards the vast main square, which the windows of my room overlooked.
    *
    The familiar everyday itinerary took about half an hour, and I just entered the cage of the lift when my mobile rang in the pocket.
    I understood that it was Peter before I pulled out my ringing flat case and glanced over the figures of the number.
    "What?" I barked out.
    "She doesn't answer the telephone," he said hurriedly.
    "Fuck," escaped my lips, and I poked my finger at the panel-to come down to the ground floor. "Stay at home; I'll try to trace her location."
    "Fuck," I rapped out an oath repeatedly, going out of the lift in the spacious hall of the hotel, and across it further, to the big sliding glass door of the entrance. "What the hell!"
    Mary's number was in my list, so I found her name instantly.
    She made no response to my call either, which boded no good.
    "Why didn't you take her to the very house?" I scolded myself, striding swiftly down the street and wiping away the sticking snowflakes from my wet ring-shaped small beard with my gloved left hand. "What does it matter what she wants in such a nasty weather!"
    The distance to the crossroads, I covered in a few minutes, but on the bridge, I slackened my pace and again tried to get in touch with Mary.
    No, her cellular was unoccupied, yet silent, and this strange silence appeared very ominous to me.
    I shouldn't have endangered her tonight even here, a short way off her abode, for my joke about local villains might be a prophecy, and one of such real ruffians might commit a robbery with violence, say, because of her costly fur coat.
    While thinking of it, I made a mute peevish aside in parenthesis.
    I never was a lover of politics, but the post-soviet oligarchic system of the decaying Russian Federation, pauperizing the considerable part of the common people in its sluggish collapse, multiplied the unearned wealth of the nouveau riches-billionaires of the elite in a certain proportion to the number of indigents and dregs of society, including impecunious dope fiends dying without dose; so Russian big towns and settlements were inundated with all kinds of criminals and illegal migrants, and they prowled the streets like packs of stray dogs, regarding the civilian population as a suitable object for getting their "haul" and plunder.
    Who knew what happened to my graceful actress disappeared without trace in the turmoil of snowfall. The road and the pavement were snowed up, and all the tracks of rare passers-by, as well as the wheel-tracks of automobiles, were buried under the thickening white cover.
    Besides, I could hardly discern the parapet on the other side of the bridge, while its far end was lost in the whiteness of swirling snow.
    I reached the middle of the not very long span and pressed the button of call. Then I listened tensely to the muffled pandemonium of night blizzard.
    Nothing.
    No, there was no new sound anywhere.
    Anyway, I had no choice now-and went across the road to do the same on the left side.
    Nothing.
    Then I set off at quick pace towards the far end and, having stopped short there, pressed the call.
    Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
    Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
    On the brink of despair, I crossed the street repeatedly and made a new attempt.
    Is it nothing again?
    Or something seemed to be heard through the noise of the winter town?
    Yes, indeed, it was something musical from below.
    No sooner had this sound come to my ears than I darted down the steep slope into the impenetrable snowy chaos, slithering down the snow-covered embankment, my feet first, in the direction of the playful melody of Mary's telephone.
    She was lying at the foot of the slope turning into the barren bank of the gully. An unnaturally broken pose of her body in the spread fur coat was so lifeless that my legs gave way, and I subsided on the snow ploughed with my boots, feeling faint.
    Meantime Mozart's melody began to sound anew, and flashes of shimmering in a tiny handbag appeared, slightly glowing like an ember, on the dark sprawled figure in fox skin.
    I switched off my mobile, whereby I extinguished the glow-worm upon that motionless vixen together with the cheerful modulations.
    I was gazing in the semidarkness at Mary not uttering a slightest sound of breathing.
    She was standing out like a quarry, shot dead, on the light-grey snow lit from above with the patches of the pale light reaching the bed of the ravine from the residential areas situated on both the bleak banks.
    I was sitting, dumbfounded, on the slope and could not avert my vacant gaze from her undoubtedly dead body.
    It was not an ordinary misfortune; it was a catastrophe crushing my staging completely. The stroke of Doom smote my Mary at the very last moment, all of a sudden, and it transpired when everything went swimmingly, without any presages and omens of the imminent tragedy looming all this time as the fate decreed.
    And there was neither bandit nor assault in her case, and nobody took her bag-clutch with the mobile and wallet or her fashionable fur coat. She merely stumbled against some ice-hummock among those snowy pot-holes and ruts when she waded through the slush; she slipped really, just as I had predicted from my bad habit to blather courteously without thinking of bringing disaster on someone.
    But I would have had to act and be sure of the irrevocability of this fatal accident for the next step.
    I rolled over onto my right side and, resting on my right hand, knelt down by Mary's body. With my left hand, I pressed a button of my cell phone at random and brought the luminous display to the strangely bulging back between the dreadfully curved fur sleeves.
    It seemed that there was no head above the foxy collar, so acute-angled was a fracture of the spine in the wrung neck.
    I looked over the hunched shoulders and then-from one side-under the crooked furry lump of flesh, but Mary's face was turned away from me, which was better than to see how horribly were her features distorted after I saw what had become of her well-preserved body fallen head over heels from the oblique surface of the high bank.
    By mischance, her doom overtook my actress in such an inconceivable way, and her death threatened to trigger off a chain of consequences imperiling the whole successful spectacle.
    That's why I made my first call not to the bereaved husband, but to the director-general, for I did not know another man to grapple with this absolutely insoluble problem but him who was able, in principle, to arrange any business and settle any matter, as he would prove every time in case of necessity in all years of our acquaintance.
    "It's Paul," I began without apologies for trouble. "We have a terrible accident tonight."
    "Speak," he ordered shortly.
    "Mary has perished," I blurted out, suppressing a quaver in my voice.
    "What?" he was taken aback by the news. "Repeat."
    "Mary fell from the embankment and hurt herself to death. I think she's slipped or tripped over border in the snow, yet anyhow, her neck is broken, and she is breathless."
    "When?"
    "I wouldn't know. I'd parted with her about forty minutes ago and only just found her."
    "Where?"
    "Under the bridge near her house. I'll climb up to meet you and show where she's lying."
    "Well, I'll be within fifteen-twenty minutes. So she's dead?"
    "Yes. Thus we're faced with cancellation of the premiere."
    "Why? We have another Arkadina for substitution."
    "Maybe. But how about Trigorin? That's the trouble."
    "Dammit!" he got me. "Have you rung him already?"
    "No. Though I'd have to."
    "I take it upon me. We can't lose him either. Let's not give up yet!"
    "Okay, I wait here for both of you."
    "Add to us the police and ambulance," he warned me beforehand. "We'll have our hands full till morning tonight."
    *
    As ever, the director was right.
    I could only surmise what phrases he had invented to word his exposition of such an accomplished fact, and whether Peter, appalled at the unexpected loss, ran amuck or stood aghast, but I was agog with excitement all the while I awaited them, since with my foreign passport I was unwilling to account for any goings-on to Russian corrupt and avid cops without a reliable mediator.
    Fortunately, the car of the director rode out of the eddying confusion of snowfall some time earlier than the town services deigned to arrive.
    As soon as his silver Mazda drew in to the roadside, its back door opened, and a bareheaded, podgy-faced man alighted awkwardly from the back seat onto the pavement, having outstripped the solid portly director driving the car.
    "Where's she?" Peter inquired politely and evenly.
    He was robed in his brown sheepskin coat with curly milky lapels and a large fur collar, but under the outer clothing, he had on his house sport jacket, which was the height of slovenliness for this incorrigibly spruce fop with his ever combed Bohemian fluffy hair, tousled by the nippy wind and powdered with dust of snow at this moment.
    "Over there," I motioned to him down. "But there's no need to descend to her."
    "Excuse me," he muttered, stepping past me, and resolutely started his descent downhill into the whitish abyss of the night duskiness.
    "Let him go," I heard a chilly voice behind my back. "Now all depends on his strength of will; we must only help him."
    "Do you think it is within his power to work on the stage after such a staggering blow?" I asked despondently, turning to the car.
    "If you wonder may we count upon him hundred per sent, I cannot vouch for his self-possession with certainty," answered the director, tilting his sleek musquash big cap aslant at a rakish angle as a real former jazzman. "But the tickets are sold out for five performances at least, and when we have full house, an actor's sense of duty grows keener. Besides, I promised him to bear all expenses and guard him from all police inquiries and funeral rites."
    "And he always longed to play Trigorin, didn't he?" I consented to immolate Peter's heart for all our sakes, entertaining doubt whether he would be sane enough at all by the first night, for I was not myself in particular and obviously felt some mental malaise, while Peter's feelings probably verged on madness. "It is ravings, of course, yet belief does wonder."
    "You shouldn't underestimate his devotion to art." The director came up to the edge of the incline, drawing on the black leather gloves chosen to match his sumptuous, fur-lined, black leather topcoat imparting an air of such a boss of Mafia to him. "I don't remember either a truancy of his or any instance of skimping his work. He'll never allow the new production to come to nothing, unless he also turns up his toes at the wrong time."
    Having cracked a joke of gallows humor, the director suddenly shouted above the whistling blasts of the howling gale:
    "Hey, there! Peter! Ascend back!"
    Strange as it was, our Trigorin caught these appeals, and we saw the dark shape of his sheepskin clambering up the slope on his hands and knees just the moment the grey patrol car sailed slow from the side of the avenue and steered for us through the snowfall across the bridge.
    Silently, I helped Peter up and began to shake snow off his coat.
    "I bet he will catch a cold!" the thought flitted across my mind at the sight of his disheveled head of hair frostily snow-white at this windy eminence.
    "Get into my car to warm up," the director commanded both of us in a peremptory tone. "Their investigation will last long, while I am very interested in your health in the foreseeable future."
    Through the misted window of the warm cabin, we could blurrily see our patron explaining something to a sturdy bumpkin in a camouflage-padded jacket of uniform.
    After his narration, the surly policeman rapped imperiously at my window, and I lowered the pane.
    "How'd you managed to find body?" the cop asked, bending to me.
    "With the help of my mobile phone," I issued my secret.
    "Rare resourcefulness," he observed. "You say the body is in the ravine?"
    "She's there, I've checked," Peter assured him inaudibly.
    "Who are you?"
    The cop gave Peter a set stare of his liquid blue eyes.
    "He's her husband," I butted in. "She's lying there exactly as she'd fallen from here."
    "Are you sure that nobody pushed her?" the cop supposed. "Or maybe it's a car?"
    "There were no wheel-tracks on the pavement," I remembered. "As to people, they are going hither and thither from time to time, so it's useless to bank on their footsteps."
    "Who knows," the cop interrupted me. "It may be a crime."
    "What for? Neither her fur coat nor her valuables vanished, while her telephone remained in her clutch," I shared thoughts on this topic.
    "There are a lot of daft riffraff in the town," the cop notified us of the criminal situation in the environment. "These buggers scour about in search of adventures, and they're capable of swinish tricks."
    Having ended his edifying instruction, the policeman made for his car to compare notes with his mate sitting behind the steering wheel inside.
    Some disagreement after their exchange of opinions necessitated their connection with the police station over a walkie-talkie and their intercourse with the commanding officer by turns.
    Eventually, the first guy equipped himself with a weighty flashlight and perforce stepped with caution on the thick snow of the slope to look at the scene of action in close proximity.
    Here, from the contrast between the frost of the night and the Mazda's warmth, I went limp and sort of sank into a phantasmal trance, registering what was going on around with some perfunctory perception superficially gliding over the reality.
    As if seeing an incoherent film of somber dream, I watched a yellow ambulance van parking athwart the road before the hood of the police car and the director rounding the jutting dark bumper of the blunt-nosed ambulance so as to attach himself to a developing skirmish of the second cop and the paramedic, who already stroke up a conversation with the limb of the law and disputed indignantly about some infringed rights from the cabin of his vehicle.
    To all appearances, the medical worker was told that he would merely have to give first aid to a victim of accident, but necessity to crawl down the snowy embankment to a dead body was passed over in silence; in this connection, he and the policeman were exchanging amenities over his unwillingness to risk his neck without exaggeration.
    At length, our imposing arbiter in leather and musquash was again lit with the headlights of the van and, waving at us, moved forward across the road to his car parked opposite the emergency services.
    "What a swine!" the director sighed, opening the front door. "Our medicine can't do anything gratuitously! How are you?"
    "All right," Peter whispered, keeping his frozen impenetrable countenance.
    "I see." The director cast a cursory glance at the poker face of his leading actor and reached to the glove compartment to take a small towel out of it. "Rub your hair dry, dear sir, and remain in the car."
    He handed Peter the towel and turned to me:
    "You're summoned to fill in the charge-sheet. I opine it's better to testify now than afterwards. Because tomorrow Peter will be required for drawing up some papers, you have no time to visit the police-station."
    "No problem, Jacob. I keep all the show in my memory, and I'll give his cues to the partners. But then, in the day of the premiere, we need an additional run-through in the morning."
    "I'll set it for eleven," the director appointed the time. "You should have your sleep out after the funeral and wake. Come on, old chap, let's go."
    "Old chap" was his form of address to me in private after our drinking bruderschaft at the banquets of celebrating the success of the spectacles directed by me in his theater. Likewise, I named my boon companion "Jacob" tete-a-tete, not "Mister" or "sir", although in the presence of others we kept a distance and refrained from any familiarity, forced to beware lest our hail-fellow-well-met attitude should serve as a bad example to the rest of troupe.
    "It is to be regretted that they have no children," my chum said in an undertone, slamming the back door behind me. "Tomorrow, someone's attendance would be very apposite to mind him in the night-time."
    While reflecting aloud the director raised the boot of his Mazda and pulled out a coiled hawser.
    "There's only one stretcher-bearer in their crew, in addition to the driver and paramedic," he answered my mute question. "I've paid those extortionists for their help and for exploitation of their stretcher; otherwise nobody agrees to haul her out of that pit."
    "It's a rip off," I remarked, keeping pace with him as he crossed the road. "The rascals always seize the opportunity to fleece poor folk."
    "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," this shrewd wily old bird incidentally showed off the cynical wittiness of his higher education, leading me past the ambulance to the police car.
    I took my seat behind the back of the cop-driver; and at once, I pulled off my damp knitted cap, so heated was the air in the cabin full of tobacco smoke.
    Then the policeman began to enter my testimony in his form; then the first cop, having shaken off the sticky snow from his camouflage, got into the car and sat next to the second one, to sip the hot coffee from his thermos flask, panting and swearing like a trooper (which was quite explicable and justifiable); but to be honest, my attention was mostly focused on the activity of the medical personnel that I could monitor with my own eyes through the measured shuffling of the wipers over the wet windshield being strewed with the flopping soggy snow-flakes.
    Under the control of the client sponsoring them, the paramedic in a weather-proof puffer coat thrown on his white doctor's smock and the strapping attendant in a dark quilted jacket, equally grey in their puffy faces from long sleeplessness, dragged a folded canvas stretcher down out of the tail gate of the van and, cursing both "fucking winter" and "fucking job", disappeared in the murky depth of the raging blizzard sweeping clouds of snow down in the ravine.
    Indeed, we had a serious reason to goad the deliberately shirking team, for very soon, they would have been digging out the body from under the thickening layer of snow.
    To cut a long story short, by the time I ended all the palaver of giving evidence, and the first cop lit up his long-awaited cigarette-to suffocate me with the poisonous smoke from two mouths, the paramedic was back again, trailing the hawser with a loop to the back bumper of the Mazda driven backwards by the director up to the verge of the slope.
    And when the somewhat pacified policeman set about filling in his form of the examination of the body of a woman and such like, the Mazda, moving onward, started tugging an improvised sledge of the stretcher up the declivity from the bed of the gully until Mary's body, strapped to the stretcher, came into sight on the snowy pavement, her head displaced awry and her profile covered with one of the fur ear-flaps.
    The attendant pushing the stretcher rose to his feet, resembling a snowman; and ten minute later, the gate of the van closed after him, while the director, coiling his hawser, headed for the police car.
    "I beg your pardon, guys," he apologized condescendingly, opening the back door. "Tomorrow, early in the morning, I'll be at the investigator with her husband and all needful papers. But now we must go to the morgue after the ambulance to prevent undesirable appropriation there."
    "Sure as death," the wag-driver jested folksily. "They'll pinch such a fur coat without supervision, and you can whistle for it. Jump off, pal, you're free."
    "He means you aren't detained yet," the first cop corrected his partner, in jest, too.
    "Many thanks," I answered unfriendly, leaving the police car still not as a handcuffed suspect.
   
    SCENE 3
   
    I escaped both the nightmare of altercations with the mortuary staff over Mary's belongings and the night negotiation of the terms of the tomorrow's quickened postmortem examination with a forensic pathologist due to the fact that the way to the morgue lay just past the square where my hotel towered like a shining palace.
    Disembarked at its front steps, I was recommended to look after myself by the director, who vowed not to permit Peter and me to walk about the winter town without escort.
    "In the morning, I'll send my minibus for you," he warned me. "Misfortunes never come singly, they say, and you all should be careful when there is black ice everywhere."
    Yet it was quite understandable that our rescuer had advanced a decisive impregnable argument and applied the best remedy for softening the pathologist up and for persuading the staff to prepare the dissected body after the autopsy by the hour appointed against the rules and routine, for, good or bad, such an approach was widespread in Russia eroded throughout with total corruption and bribery.
    A big sheet of paper with Mary's black-bordered photo and the traditional text-"We announce with deep regret the death of the National Actress" and so on-was hung up on the wall opposite the entrance of the stage door, and it made everybody stop in stupor with "Oh my God!". Thus, by Jacob's coming, all the troupers had crowded, numbed with shock, before the obituary note in the small lobby.
    At the sight of this illicit gathering, Jacob immediately established order.
    "Why aren't you in your dressing-rooms?" he exclaimed sternly. "Nobody countermanded the rehearsal today, my dear artists!"
    Having drawn their attention to his person, the director did not take long to bid them strictly:
    "I forbid you to pester Peter with your condolences and commiseration till the premiere. No tears, no hysterics, no recollections! Do you get me? And you know what, ladies and gentlemen. If anyone of you is going to be drunk at the funeral repast, I shall sack him or her as a violator of labor discipline. Tomorrow drink at the banquet ad lib and do as you like, but today abstain and hold your tongues. Now come to work, colleagues, time presses."
    And without further ado, he went first out of the lobby.
    Before the run-through I confirmed the cause of Mary's death and the real circumstances of the accident, though by the beginning, all the participants knew what had happened to her thanks to the information of the Literary director, a sprightly blonde filly in a coarse woolen sweater, responsible for playbills, advertising, and public relation, who was in charge of all announcements and, accordingly, in the know about all events in the theater.
    I had preferred not to enlarge on this point after a wakeful night in my cold room with Mary's face, now still girlishly-ruddy now ghastly sallow, arising in my fitful sleep when I tried to take a nap after my long standing in the warm bathroom under the thin hot spurts of the shower laving my inflamed brain besotted with insomnia.
    My soul was so much stunned by the sudden catastrophe that, stupid with horror, I was unable to think or feel anything. I all but set out for a bottle of whisky to one of the night bars sited round the square, yet gave it up as a deed fraught of going on the booze (if not on the bout) in my present state of mind being aggravated with my feverish self-flagellation; meanwhile, next morning I should have been fully armed with my composure-to show my mettle instead of my weak places, such as a hangover or shattered nerves.
    Although my withered scrawny "right hand", viz. AD (the assistant Stage Director), was very competent and clever (as it became this confirmed spinster with her professional weight in the collective and her experience of responsibility for the nitty-gritty of running the shows), nevertheless, I must have adjusted the mechanism of my staging personally up to the last detail, and for the duration of the technical repetition of the spectacle, I was occupied with coordinating the full score of music-lighting-changes of setting-stage effects-preparedness of prop and costumes, not quite synchronized till now.
    Therefore, as Trigorin, I could only superficially designate the mise-en-scenes and vocal nuances of the role, especially when Arkadina the second rather disappointed me again and again by lack of virtuosity, and she hadn't certain verve in her playing by comparison with Mary's artistry. I had no illusions about improving her performance, as my previous endeavor to impart more subtlety to her formally right diligence was of little avail.
    Alas, without Mary's plasticity, both psychological and bodily, I received an impression of some crude scheme of the part (which, of course, might grow full-blooded later), so that Peter was to compensate the creative unwieldiness of his partner in spite of his anguish, alienation, and instinctive dislike to her, living and unloved.
    Properly speaking, the most vital question was at present-to what degree was Peter's psyche harmed in consequence of the severe wound the heavens inflicted on him with such a rank injustice towards Mary, because I had done all that lay in my power, and the unsteadiness of the central supporting pillar would have predetermined the inevitable collapse of the whole edifice.
    Perhaps he really espoused the art of theater, however Peter and Mary had been running in double harness from the Theater Academy, to say nothing of their domesticity, secondary and auxiliary; from which I inferred the worst, undoubting that his attachment for her put him in a predicament in view of recent developments after her death by misadventure.
    To me Lord was merciful, since the police demanded my visit today, for fear I should slip away on Monday and go into hiding in foreign parts.
    I glimpsed, true, Mary's grey peaked face, slightly touched up by our makeup artist, with her sunken, blindly closed eyes, as I passed across the foyer to the minibus awaiting me at the porch past her violet coffin with silver handles, whence my best actress goggled unseeingly from white chrysanthemums and red carnations at the stucco molding of the ceiling-but no more.
    I skipped thus the short speeches of the civil funeral ceremony and the very rite of burial at the vast cemetery in the piercing freezing wind without snow; nor did I participate in the last procession to the grave to wait for the end of the protracted interment, seeing that I spent these three hours sitting in the dingy corridor of the police-station and then-in the investigator's office, enumerating some gruesome details of my finding the body of the citizen (and Mary's surname further) in the smoky atmosphere of a small frowsty room encumbered with steel filing cabinets.
    I just caught the end of the funeral repast and was gladden by the wholesome influence of the disciplinary warning on the almost sober friends and acquaintances of the decease, considering that I remembered very well how they were used to drink at banquets.
    To shorten the meal, the director suspended regaling the troupe with dainties till tomorrow and ordered to lay the table for a meager cold buffet without any special dishes and seats; moreover, the quantity of wine and vodka was severely rationed by him. Prepared for any eventuality, he enjoined that the mourning would be restricted to five drinks in remembrance of the departed and have no continuation in private; withal he allotted the task of watching for inebriates to some reasonable actresses and assistant stage-managers.
    In the laconic brevity of such an abridged version of the traditional binge, my belated graveside oration was unnecessary, and I knocked back my wine-glass without so much as saying "May she rest in peace!", all the more because I did not bear vodka with all my Russian nature (as well as any unbridled uproarious behavior imputed to my nation consisting, I dare aver, not of churlish louts and cads-tykes only).
    "Where's Peter?" I asked the director, who was already giving a signal to his two barmaids to clear the table. "Why is he absent?"
    "Peter had gone to his makeup room to lie down for a while," the director answered, viewing an infantry square of his subordinates swarming round a horseshoe of three quadrangular tables. "You may take sandwiches and join him. Presently, I'll disperse this general meeting."
    He quaffed his wineglass and finished by resume:
    "Thank God, nobody is sloshed as yet."
    "Touch wood," I advised him, taking the plate with one intact sandwich from the devastated buffet.
    I indeed found Peter in a recumbent posture on his hard plywood ottoman from the discarded props in one of man's dressing-rooms in the dusky passage behind the scenes, his head reclined against a motley morocco bolster, shiny with age, and his fluffy wavy hair dried out with hair-dryer and neatly combed.
    He shared this artistic cell with the actor playing the doctor in The Seagull, and Peter's makeup desk was prominent by the ideal order of all the cases of makeup and powder and phials of spirit-gum placed on the laminated desktop surface between the two leaves of side-mirrors reflecting the light of the frame of many matted bulbs within the lit space of entering into role.
    "How are you?" I began with a banality to probe his mood. "I hope you've had a bite of food there."
    "I had," he stilled my fears, enunciating his words clearly but without any intonation, as though re-telling someone's text indifferently. "Tomorrow I shall be in due form."
    He vouchsafed me neither a glance nor a gesture, and very likely he had not budge from the moment he plumped down, utterly exhausted, on his back in his only refuge among the horrors of the universe besieged him.
    He retired wholly into his shell protecting him from any intrusion on his privacy, or rather into the hell of his soul being torn by the torments of the damned, the blazing inferno of which he did not hope to damp down, simply waiting for its abatement to recover himself.
    "She'd again got ovation," he informed me unexpectedly from the ottoman.
    At first, I hardly seized what he meant, but then, I realized why he spoke of her success.
    It was our consuetude-to carry an actor out of the theater to the catafalque to the clapping of the colleagues; and Mary's reliable partner just implied this parting loud applause for her.
    "Now, I must work for both of us," Peter concluded stoically.
    Here I understood what fulcrum he had in the Sisyphean task of his consciousness ever struggling for its creative survival.
    "If you like, by the by, I can stay for the night with you," I offered him tactfully.
    "Why is it you?"
    He fastened his eyes of martyr on me in perplexity, but without a movement of his head or a shrug of the shoulders.
    "For want of anything better," I belittled the real significance of my relations with their family. "I'll try not to be a burden to you."
    "It's not that." His eyes somehow inwardly drooped, gazing at me as before. "With interlocutor, I'll begin to speak and never stop my talking. I may lose strength so."
    It was a devilishly accurate observation; though to this draining-enervating influence of loquacity I would have added a danger for everyone afflicted with self-awareness to take a swig of some strong alcoholic beverage and plunge into dissipation, swilling all hooch and plonk and getting sodden with drink.
    "You're right," I nodded accent. "You should be alone tonight."
    "Yes, alone," he withdrew his eyes. "We have to repeat all through."
    "Then goodbye, mister Trigorin," I said, having marked his "we" in my mind, and left him alone together with her to rehearse.
    *
    I don't take the liberty of supposing how Peter had overcome his grief and gotten over his loss this night (as to me, I slept like a log and got up jaded in fear for him, extremely apt to a nervous breakdown at present); but by the morning run-through, he was on the stage, reserved as usual, except that he frowned on talks irrelevant to the matter and was not disposed to any sniveling.
    He undoubtedly regarded his enactment as a sacred duty to Mary, and he had decided on saving the production with her blessing received in his individual night rehearsal; therefore, he did not want to be distracted from his work by anything, going over his part very meticulously, albeit not in full gear, by way of sparing himself for the premiere.
    Notwithstanding his poise, I was all strung up, and I did not have sufficient mental toughness to watch my The Seagull from the hall.
    During its two acts I was sitting on the bench in the wings near my SM (the Stage Manager), a fleshy-looking madam of doughy complexion wrapped in a black-red Spanish shawl, who was conducting the show through a microphone of the intercom on the control panel in the light of a small lamp.
    Having ensconced myself in the semi-darkness, my back to the lofty brick wall with the pulleys and blocks of cast-iron pigs of the counterweights lifting the steel battens of coulisses, backcloths, drop-curtains, and strip lights to the flies, I screwed my eyes in a kind of lethargy behind a black spotlight smelling of hot metal and listened not so much to the voices being heard from the stage as to the reacting of the audience, trembling superstitiously for Peter's playing in particular and fearing to scare away some ripening success of my staging still hanging by a thread.
    Luckily, the cordial drops I held in readiness for our heroic Trigorin turned out needless, while the ovations of the public were thunderous and long, so we took no less than ten curtain calls, not counting such calls of the set designer, costume designer, and stage-director, with kisses, bunches of flowers and bows.
    Besides, I felt obliged to bring out Peter separately to the footlights, which caused a squall of applause of the spectators apparently knowing about his yesterday's tragedy.
    At the banquet, he and I cracked a bottle of brandy donated to us as an exclusive prize by the director, who bore in mind the future of The Seagull with the same good box-office returns increasing owing to the rumors of such a winning plot of real life. (It is only too true that people are susceptible to sensations and to the sight of a misfortune-stricken buffoon conquering his feelings.)
    Next day, I saw the second premiere from the stalls, where I occupied the only vacant seat in the row before the back aisle so that I could keep in sight the portal wholly and register, with gnashing of teeth, all lapses and blunders of the performance in acting, in lighting, in music, and in shifting the scenes.
    I never was fully satisfied with the state of my direction in any production, however eloquently I soothed my wounded artistic pride with conciliatory exhortations to take into account that faults were unavoidable in such a collective product of creation as a staging of a play; but Peter in his part truly surpassed himself.
    The expression, "He stole the show", did not convey the essence of his performing of the role, forasmuch as he outdid the others without overacting or playing to the gallery and seemed to be a certain epicenter of exquisite sensibility, which reflected the playing of his partners already accurately tuned, now amplifying now diminishing its ardor, preventing even his excessively expansive Arkadina from overdoing it in their episodes, for she was often inclined to camp it up.
    How he did Trigorin it was above all praises, and he somehow managed to play up to the actress in such a way that many important nuances of Arkadina's character were accentuated and enlarged with some shades of meaning of his lines and behavior.
    Sometimes it created an impression of his endeavor to resurrect Mary's Arkadina in his partner-to prolong their cleft unity on the stage at least; but I was reticent enough not to let anyone into this secret obvious to me, and what was more, I said not a word about my insight when I congratulated him on his incontestable victory and the indubitably triumphal success of our last spectacle.
    Two following days were free from rehearsals and shows, so I could spare the time for completion of formalities and receiving my fee earned by me at the cost of such agitations.
    After the premiere had taken place in spite of everything, thereby extricating me from the whole host of difficulties, my nervous strain abruptly slackened, and I was no longer a bundle of nerves, but instead, I suddenly weakened to the last degree.
    Every staging drained my energy utterly, and my health always had need of a period of regaining my depleted strength in the humdrum uneventfulness succeeding the work done by me, to come to the next project with renewed vigor, yet now I literally went to pieces before my return to the bosom of my family and felt an indisposition foreshadowing some illness.
    Medicaments of my medicine-chest helped me to put off the impending collapse till my departure; nevertheless, all these two nights I again and again drank strong tea and replenished my sick organism with new and new drinks of whisky. Being tipsy by day, I tried, as per usual, to cover the smell of alcohol with the sweet scent of my Platinum-Egoist by Chanel, which I used while working in theaters in order to reinforce my status of a prosperous artist and win women's favor by bolstering my reputation of a ladies' man.
   
   
    ACT 2: "LOVE AND DEATH IN TEL AVIV"
   
    SCENE 4
   
    The illness overtook me by night in the airliner flying to Israel.
    The influenza attacked me when I nodded off, weary in body and mind, and dreamt that Mary was impersonating Arkadina in the present staging, but for some reason in her twenty years, and the role did not suit her, so cheerful and pert, as this captivating sexy gal was too carefree and happy for it, even if she performed all my direction very punctiliously. Partly, I was riled with her inappropriate rejuvenation just on the opening night and got hot under the collar from righteous indignation; partly, I awfully lusted for my adorable young coeval, and it gave me the shivers to think of the retrieval of her real age after the drop scene, because then I could not remain young either.
    The alternation of heat and cold continued until I suddenly woke up completely ill. Although my flu began with a chill and some sickening odor redolent of a nauseous blending of fragrances in a boudoir of an overblown beauty (it was, of course, Chanel sprayed on my perfumed moustache), the shivering was followed by a high fever, which made me decline an offer of the stewardess to eat a little on board with a muffled snarl through my clenched teeth (by the mealtime, I was on the verge of vomiting without any food).
    In the morning, I hardly dragged myself to the taxi-rank, hating all and sundry, including the passengers around together with the confoundedly-spacious new international terminal extending its sluggish people-mover and the very rising sun greeting me instead of the former winter downpour, and discerning the surroundings through such a misty haze, since I felt as if my head were splitting and my empty stomach were wrung with gripes.
    At home, I was met by an indifferent "Hi!" from my "better half" hurrying to catch a bus to her work, which was quite valid a cause to absolutely ignore my ill-health after my phrase about the "procured filthy lucre" of honorarium.
    As a result, I was unassisted in arranging my bed of sickness on a single divan-bed in the dark narrow security-room earmarked for my den, well aired in our perpetual struggle against dampness in the conditions of the absence of any central heating, though my teeth were chattering even with hot tea and under two fleece blankets.
    Dressed in my thick flannel pajamas and robed in my warm velour dressing gown, I embraced a hot-water-bottle, staring blankly at the red-hot screen of my heater and shaking with cold, while my desultory thoughts were jumping from one topic to another, pivoting, for all that, on the theme of sudden death.
    There was no connection between Max's suicide in Jerusalem in December and Mary's fatal accident in Russia in March, but they occurred in the space of three months, and this sequence of events suggested a strange idea to my deliriously wandering mind. The idea consisted in some dependence of the second death on the first one.
    "How might it be?" I asked myself, seeing with my closed inflamed eyes a swarm of winking fiery sparks searing the eyelids from inside. "What might link these different deaths together?"
    And the text of that parting damnation immediately arose, written with flaming letters, in my whirling head.
    So, that rotten actor, groveling before his vindictive demon of suicide and wishing me to be pursued by death, had invoked a curse on my life, that is why the death began to chase me shortly after; and it was as likely as not, the doom simply missed me by inches when it hit Mary having nothing to do with the cracked avenger.
    To be more concrete, it was your obedient servant who had played the role of a connective link in the horrible mystery of vicissitudes of fate and in effect communicated the lethal contagion to the best actress of my career and the only woman, whom I had been being infatuated with from my young days till her last glance on that hellish bridge, where I inadvertently sent her to meet her death in the raging blizzard.
    No woman's flesh gave me pleasure that could compare with the bliss to watch my Mary enacting the parts directed by me, with her irreproachable artistry and unfading inspiration never leaving her on the boards before the spectators. Fulfilling all my expectations, she by no means courted my approval, because in respect of creation, she had no real life but that on the stage in her heroines, and she was eager to live every moment of the lives of her scenic incarnations with the utmost vitality and perfection.
    I don't like the word "genius" in professional art, for I often use it, allegedly in earnest, in my rehearsals-to urge a performer to act still more zealously in the same direction; but, by God, I was incapable of finding another definition for the playing of my provincial great actress.
    By the evening, my illness assumed a character of burning in a blast furnace of somnolence, and I was lost in the scrappy visions of some haunting nightmares, while my straggling incoherent thoughts were straying somewhere in the very heart of the boundless desert of scorching lunacy.
    The sorry state of my clouded mind amounted to severing any connection with all importunate ordinary mortals that suddenly sprang sometimes from nowhere in the incinerating sultry heat of the lifelessly-arid space of my incandescent brain, since I was unable to open my bursting eyes full of glowing melted metal, and all sounds resounded reverberatingly in my half-extinct consciousness as rolls of rumbling headache.
    Needless to say how I was disinclined to speak and tell anyone about anything with my wishes reduced to a trinity "nobody-nothing-never", when even the quiescence of death did not seem to me a release from my immersion in the disastrous drought of my soul being consumed by inner fire.
    Pining for calmness, I was roving over some torrid parched wastelands, baking in the blazing invisible sun; and what was I became a thirsty puny phantom shriveling and shrinking in the sweltering void of my self-awareness.
    I loathed this world with its repulsive human kind that was tormenting me with the slightest rustles and whispers in my cubbyhole and torturing me with the banging of Bacchanalian rhythms from outside, with throaty yells of broils and bawling of clamorous talks in Hebrew at that.
    Powerless to blink, I was trudging to an unattainable wellspring through the sandy vastness of the glaring eternity, while this crappy mortal life was ceaselessly drumming in the throbbing core of my ephemeral being roaming in the infinity of my mental Purgatory.
    In the meantime, my practical spouse was no whit disturbed by my hovering between life and death. Disregarding my misery, she went on tutoring her young goofs in English at home, always attentive to coop me up in my stuffy cell for the time of cramming pupils in our drawing room.
    Stifling in the heavy air and detesting the exasperating droning of voices, I snuggled down in bed, writhing with aching in all my bones and nearly puking on every awakening from the cough that racked my whole body; and my long-drawn-out virus infection lasted two weeks at the very least, not counting the days of my convalescing from it.
    But every cloud has a silver lining as it is said in the proverb, whereby the fierce heat of the lingering influenza, as though burning down all my feelings, blunted the sensation of the sharp smarting branded on my memory by the winter horrors of the unexpected loss of my compeer in art (and, maybe, the personification of my notion of an ideal actress).
    When I more or less recuperated from my wasting disease, my soul was seared by the wordless crying and scalding tears of my solitary vagrancy in the wilderness to such an extent that now I felt the dull pain of a slight singe in the sore spot, not the stinging of a raw wound.
    After these days of the fever obliterating my perception of the external world, there lay a strip of scorched earth between the past and the present, insuperable from both sides, and I was rather glad to have such a borderline in my life running further, whatever befell me due to the reversals of fortune.
    Perhaps that was some reaction of self-defense, and yet, my recollections of Mary's death got included in the memory of all those months of my then staging, which became a thing of the past and receded far into that ended Russian winter in that remote town, existing since then only as good notices of the assorted organs of the press in the Internet, from which I was used to glean the information about my productions.
    Yes, I had lost my ladylove in theater, but didn't I already lose both my soviet homeland-torn to shreds of separate states and impudently appropriated as private principalities by cliques of party machine and "the organs" and by hosts of criminal gangs dividing their spheres of influence-and my post-soviet native land-too drained in total pillage of attrition to be sure of social security in the future -as well as many associates in my theatrical work, whose lives were ruined with cataclysms of the vertiginous enrichment of the elite of "privatizers".
    To judge from what proved obtainable in my family in late years, my marriage was actually the same remainder of one of my losses, as it grew clear, for example, from the attitude of my busy helpmate to the event so painful and important to me.
    In reply to my concise narration about the sudden tragedy on the eve of my key premiere and about passing my spectacle within a hair's breadth of failure after that catastrophe, she uttered her judgment about Peter's heroism:
    "Apparently he little valued his wife like you."
    "A nice appreciation!" I grunted, vexed, with a wry smile.
    "Any objections?" she was miffed by my sarcasm. "If he loved her ever so little, he wouldn't give a damn about your premiere. But you all do love only yourself playing the great artists."
    "To be a master is better than to fritter our energies for the trivial daily round and household chores," I couldn't restrain my irritation.
    For hard workers, like my wife-toiler, my defiant idleness in the intervals between my rare productions was like a red rag to a bull, even though from time to time I still worked for hire as a substitute of watchman for one shift in the firm that once had been serving me as a source of my earned income over three years.
    "Then I have no more to say to you, save that you might lighten my load of worries if you were less selfish."
    With that, she left me alone to brood glumly over her offensive objurgation, pondering whether I should revel in my morose drunkenness by our hearth (and smash up the crockery) or set out for Tel Aviv to booze up (and squander my fee there).
    My thrift gained the upper hand over my adventurism: having extracted a bottle of whisky out of the recess behind a pile of plays and files crammed on the shelves of the ever-closed small hutch of my computer corner desk, I got plastered at our kitchen table in the absence of my missus-without a snack, excepting mandarins and a good goblet of Schweppes tonic, and without any TV-accompaniment to my circumstantial conversation with myself.
    *
    Now that I have touched this sore subject, my incidental reference to my first and last wife must be expanded into a short outline of my married life at the present time.
    It was, frankly speaking, a sorry sight in all its aspects.
    She and I were almost the same age, and the equality in our "about fifty" naturally put us in the face of the deepening disharmony of our relations, particularly of our sexuality.
    She already had some technical problems in this intimate question (quite solvable-thank God), but the worst of it was another thing pertaining to her changed approach to sex as such.
    After the years of our separate struggle for a decent position in Israel where we had an occasion of lovemaking once in a while, the former playfulness had evaporated from our intercourses: now, every time I intruded into her serious aloofness with my follies about a bit of rumpy-pumpy, I sensed her inimical reluctance and felt as if I were a lecherous geezer-reprobate unable to suppress lusts of the flesh and obnoxious in his irksome goatish heat.
    Without doubt, there was a complex of factors in the destruction of her voluptuousness, not only her age and fatigue.
    Emigration has a sobering effect on most of the sufficiently happy married couples that are reverting in their mature years to the starting-point of the long process of taking a place in the sun. Both of beloved spouses come to realize in their unforeseen hardship what an encumbrance to them is such obsolete stuff as connubial attachment in the absolutely new conditions, and how obtrusively-unnecessary is the very partner with some non-existent status in the foreign society and with some invalid conjugal rights to the independent cohabitant.
    Given that they have passed all the common stages of their matrimonial love, they cannot be united anew either as lovers blinded with desire or as parents thinking of their child, yet each of them has accumulated a great store of displeasure incurred by the opposing side. Thus, the coexistence of two disunited subjects grows more and more intolerable, and their family ties turn into a thin flimsy web easily tearing asunder in causeless tantrums and unfounded quarrels because of their prickly self-reliance in new country.
    As a rule, love eventually ends with a kind of partly-forgiving sexual friendship, but the extremes of emigration cut the ground from under the feet of a not so newly wedded pair like ours in family life, while in spiritual life we are-and always were-poles apart.
    I ever knew after my youthful decision to marry an attractive almond-eyed cutie of non-theatrical origin (before my departure to the first theater offered me a job of resident director for a season) that all these domesticities have the quality of eroding an aura of sexual attraction between two passionate adherents of carnality; which rule was proved by Israel, where at the outset, I got deprived of any opportunity to sojourn periodically in another milieu among some artistic folk without the everyday inescapability of my returning home, while afterwards, we had to stint ourselves in our intimacy dwindled to a hasty copulation for fear of being taken unawares at any hour by the children lodging with us.
    In fact, always desiderating solitude during several years, we somehow overlooked the main point.
    As the expression goes, time waits for no man (for no woman either), and our levity in the audacious attempt of enlivening our alliance by renewal of country had done damage to our love instead of introducing gusto into it. The damage, I suspected, was irreparable, for whenever I endeavored to endear myself to her, I acted every time only to the detriment of our atrophied sensuality.
    To my sorrow, here I had no option of candidatures for a casual amourette, and so after resumption of my travels to the familiar theaters for staging, I sank so low that once I involved myself with one of my quondam "occasional dalliances" in Russia. Although she was a choreographer, our episodic energetic frigging did not rejoice my heart very much with such a ten-year break and my acquired watchfulness in the heat of passion.
    You may regard my conduct as fornication, but you must acknowledge that if someone is too inconsiderate to the mate in love, this borders on flouting him or her and annuls their agreement. As for me, I can accept the marriage, provided that the dereliction of my mate's marital duties does not compel me to be an ascetic. (Excuse my outspokenness.)
    The question arises why did I endure the fleshly privations so uncomplainingly, and why I had not yet divorced my tormentor, as some of my selfishly-wise colleagues did in my age, preferring to dissolve their old marriages for new infatuations and maintaining the due level of sensitivity that was the indispensable condition for the sensibility of an artist and for the productive continuation of his creation.
    Not that I waived my legal rights for robust sexual appetite in my comparatively declining years or abnegated the pleasure of sins of the flesh, but then I should have deserted my darling no later than a decade ago, before having settled in Israel in our flat as two joint owners burdened with endless troubles of the adult daughter and the little granddaughter in addition to our own problems.
    If I had spurned my commitments to the family and left my worn-out "significant other" for another woman, I would have been bound to earn my living again as a watchman; and I envisaged falling into the same trap in case of free bachelorhood if we drifted apart on the strength of my accumulated dislike to her.
    It stands to reason that I could get some regular work in accordance with my profession of stage-director in one of the theaters and consequently live in one of the cultural centers of my fatherland, however this variant implied both my homeless life without the present creature comforts and my subjection to the routine and urgent interests of one troupe, which I had rejected in my thirties already-for staging what I really wanted instead of running round in circles without any worthwhile results in my creative advancement. In my Israeli status, I was rather a sort of outcast, but in the next season I planned my production of Hamlet in Russia-how's that for an artistic career?
    In short, I had no illusions about my hypothetical future without my three-room calm haven, because my hands were free for art just owing to the fact that the outlay on the public utilities of our own flat amounted some insignificant part of our aggregate monthly income against a high rent for tenancy in both the countries. Such is the real causation on the thorny path of a Russian man of art in some cases, if you want the honest truth.
    Aside from that, I still had a certain creative inducement to stay with my industrious pedagogue up to my last spectacle, dissembling my emotions.
    The crux of the matter consisted in our love story.
    Anyway, I had been creating her as my perfect sweetheart in bed since I had seduced this seductress and set about depraving her systematically, conforming to her girlish inexperience and taboos so as not to intimidate my innocent girlie with my sexual fantasies, but on the contrary, to inculcate a taste for some innocuous "perversions" in such a sexpot.
    I dare say my insistent efforts of instilling carnal liberation into her southern nature predisposed to voluptuousness were soon crowned with success, and I could hardly bear the gradual extinction of her natural propensity for love games in the Middle-East fussiness and our recurrent tiffs.
   
    SCENE 5
   
    Meantime the coming of the spring was marked, as ever, by a spell of extremely warm weather boding the more and more frequent hot days without any rainy respites, and therewith all evergreen hedges, which were blossoming alternately in competition with the crowns of some unknown trees during the so-called winter, burst into bloom and got adorned with multicolored big and small flowers.
    Since I don't belong to naturalists or landscapists, it doesn't befit me to describe such picturesque sceneries too vividly, because I pay little attention to the environment, unless the great outdoors grows less temperate and begins to impede my movement over the town.
    I can stage all tinges and nuances of psychology, but I am absolutely helpless to pick aptly-juicy words to hues of simple clay (e.g., "puce", or "rufous", or "fulvous") and limn the mutability of the tints of the resplendently-effulgent cerulean-sapphire azure or the largesse of the colorfulness of the lush greenery, throwing my brush when it comes to painting the malachite-emerald attire of the soughing exuberant foliage overhanging the rank shrubbery covered with mauve-lilac-maroon-violet, saffron-lemon-orange, turquoise-aquamarine, indigo-blue, pink-vermillion-crimson-red and even lily-white clusters exuding their exotic sweet fragrances in the odoriferous palette of the entrancing aureate sunset. (What a piling of redundant adjectives in one phrase-for the sake of truth to the munificence of nature!)
    No, no, stick to your last if you are a cobbler, isn't that so?
    Just as a cobbler, alias a stage-director deserving no stage for professional work in Israel (I don't presume to estimate possibilities of another kind of stage directing from the heights of my stagecraft that rules out any amateurishness contradicting the requirements of my vocation), I proposed to be sitting at my post of watchman for the three following months so that I could be free from the middle of July up to October when I expected to start on Hamlet.
    My sleepless vigil in the empty lobby of an office block quite enabled me to sketch out some drafts of separate episodes as I saw it in my night insights, but the direction of such a play required my long preliminary preparation and thinking the well-known tragedy over in every detail beforehand so as to be ready for staging, where your bold improvisations of action arises from your analysis of this action.
    I was returning to my old job for purely mercenary reasons, as it was difficult to make a fortune by obtaining my theatrical fees only, yet, other considerations apart, I felt a need for seclusion-mainly out of my unwillingness to deal with my cantankerous Ann after her subjective reaction to the most significant loss in my life.
    It looked as if she harbored a grudge against me till then and profited by the occasion to vent her ill temper on her chief evildoer in the world by way of slighting him.
    Thus, my worst fears were realized: she was sick to death of me, and our rare intercourses under cover of night did not reconcile her now with the presence of some complacent egoist, who turned out to be a windbag and failed to enrich himself with his art sufficiently to provide her with the maintenance of a really well-off lady delivered from any labor for living in the lap of luxury.
    I couldn't see her ever-scowling face, its brow puckered and its lips pursed, that seemed to me so old in comparison with the serene look of Mary's face imparting youthfulness to her appearance in spite of her crow's feet and the thin lines of fine wrinkles.
    Be that as it may, it is not my style to abandon myself to grief, as well as living in the past or getting upset over such trifles as falling into disgrace.
    I was still hale and hearty, and I had plenty of time to spare at present, as the specific character of my work afforded me the very good conditions for indulging in reverie by day and by night.
    My service was, admittedly, far from respectable, but in my age and without any acceptable profession, such a job-not of sweeper-cleaner-might be considered the summit of my ambition, and I once spent half a year on mastering Hebrew for my climb to this top. (Every social stratum has its own scale of priorities, my scornful Fortune's darlings, and on every level, one must surmount its own obstacles.)
    There is no sense to give an account of my shifts and thoughts in that small lobby with grey tiled walls and floor, at the marble-topped plastic reception desk with a selector and a monitor, because these periods of conceiving and gestating new projects are vague, and their inchoate images are elusively formless. The most I can say about my sinking into the thick of plebian life is that after the lapse of three months, I have left the black office chair behind the rampart of the desk with some augmentation of the savings on my bank account.
    Of course, it was a matter of luck-what objects would be allotted to me to pass those months. If it had fared worse with me in my appointment, I might have been transferring from place to place, spending my time for trips all over the central agglomeration of Israel (occasionally by bicycle for want of a car) and being on duty in some remote districts and suburban small towns, yet the future is always full of uncertainty, and even as a knight errant, I could be wrapped up in my habitual creative quests wherever I wandered.
    *
    I was through with my pains to get my emoluments just by the time when I wanted to meet with one of my old friends, a Russian theater critic and a member of the international conference planned for a week of July in Tel Aviv.
    He was fifteen years older than me; and at one time, he lent me very ponderable support on my embarking on a career in art by honorable mentions in his critiques and by laudatory appreciations of my direction in his analysis of the spectacles he saw as a "critic from the capital" in the theaters that gave me formerly to stage something. With such an authority on my side, I ever had a good stimulus to do my best in every production and elaborate my works as much as I could, notwithstanding some artistic prejudices inherent in some troupes.
    The omniscience of all-seeing receptivity of stage arts was a distinctive trait of this suave plump polymath with a bland smile. The glossy globe of his bald head contained the history of all the world theater from Hellas to Broadway, and his bright beady eyes were supplying his penetrating mind with mental pabulum at every preview, after which he, so to speak, would set his new impressions in "the world-wide context" with his rather ruthless impartiality, not detracting from his professional amiability.
    The said Joseph visited Israel twice, and as an aborigine, I once guided him around two cities I knew, namely Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, representing the pole of religiosity and affairs of State and the pole of secular affairs and cultural life respectively in the irreconcilably split nation.
    Fortunately, he had travelled many countries and did not go into raptures over the local oriental exotica in Zionist shape like our tourists, whose exaltation usually irritated me as a normal European having an aversion both to the notorious "Levantine mentality" (i.e. laxity and laziness complemented by loud-voiced talkativeness) and to the Utopian fables about brotherhood of all Jews. As I had the pleasure to watch the consequences of such a "brotherhood" (only of the workers) in my ruinous Soviet Union, it was very distressing to see the same tendencies in the society of my second citizenship.
    Unlike his gullible tribesmen, too hastily answered their mythical country's call, my sober-minded valuer did not tear off from his hometown, vilifying our then "Soviet camp", to some suspicious brethren of his nationality; he had not left his flat in Moscow, nor had he sold it for a song in an upsurge of ebullient enthusiasm for some dubious national unity in the role of a homeless destitute employee enriching firms of manpower; therefore, he was a guest of honor staying here in respectable hotels now, while I was no more than his Hebrew-speaking guide with Russian roots.
    Just in the capacity of an interpreter, I was to keep him company in his leisure hours after their morning lectures and debate and before the performance in the Cameri Theater in the evening.
    In July, we had chosen the most proper time for the constitutional, for in the afternoon, the summer weather of the seaside might show itself in all its glory, increasing the temperature of the sultry air to forty degrees above and making our stroll in the full blaze of the sun a kind of baking in oven in the not very figurative sense of the word.
    I personally seldom suffered from sultriness, and I regarded summer as a rather blessed season presenting to me an opportunity of swimming at sea and drinking beer without restriction, but Joseph already had problems with his heart and blood pressure, and I did not think the quick change of the climate would be wholesome for his health, though I placed my hopes on the air-conditioning everywhere in Israel.
    On his night arrival he got in touch with me; and on the morrow, we met by his hotel under the midday sun of the broiling hot day.
    *
    Joseph appeared before the massive front door of the hotel dressed in khaki-a short-sleeved safari shirt and baggy shorts with many patch pockets-and accompanied by a flamboyant swarthy thirty-years-old bimbo, her curly frizzy flaxen hair causally flowing over her bare tanned angular shoulders that were crossed with the two thin straps of her deliberately-dark bra showing through her loose semi-transparent pale-lilac singlet-vest as long as a tunic, under which she wore a pair of sky-blue knee-length leggings wondrously matching her open-toe pink sabots.
    The nails of her hands and feet were covered with varnish of all the colors of the rainbow; the big white-rimmed hexagonal sunglasses was placed on her chiseled sharp nose; and the right arm of this typical specimen of the indigenous population of Tel Aviv was beautified with a colored tattoo in the shape of a Chinese dragon sticking its carmine fangs into her throat and its yellow-green claws into her breast, the crocodile tail of the reptile twined round her right elbow.
    Most of the more or less young girls of our littoral were trendy likewise (not at work, of course); so when Joseph introduced us to each other, she did not make an impression on me at first; but here she took off her spectacles, and I looked in her hazel eyes-in the eyes of my perished Mary.
    Or rather, these were the eyes of Mary in her young days.
    Such was her look in the minute we first sensed the sudden mutual attraction that had struck us without cause in broad daylight and seized our flesh and souls too unbearably for any delay; that's why, for lack of another unoccupied territory in the Academy, we were tasting the sweets of lechery obscenely in a dark unlocked box-room under the backstairs, and our hasty possession among some falling tin buckets was punctuated with our choked giggles over the piquancy of the unexpected situation.
    Naturally, I could not say for certain that the arisen magnetism was shared in full measure, but it was hard to be deceived in its nature with my experience and my keen sense of women's lust for me (because I always have to bear in mind such things in my profession often depending on their instinctive attitudes in the recesses of their souls).
    I do not love to boast of my good form in my almost fifty, yet in summer, after two weeks of everyday swimming, I become a real athlete, and my suntanned broad-shouldered torso in combination with my sinewy legs in tight jeans may impress a lot of true connoisseurs of man's body.
    I keep reverential silence about my other obvious merits very interesting the fair sex in a lusty blighter like me, since it appertains to the sphere diametrically opposed to my brilliant mind and coruscating wit (let's be objective about ourselves).
    Anyway, she and I got welded by the familiar and infrequently befalling closeness of desire the instant our eyes met; and as ever, this happened like a bolt from the blue and quite inexplicably, as a minute ago, I was scarcely disposed to escapades of such a kind.
    Nevertheless, it would be unjustified asceticism to decline battle in that case. (I hope you took cognizance of the deplorable deficiency of intimacy in my family life and the shakiness of my moral standards as a consequence).
    "Didn't you want to go?" Joseph asked her after all the conventionalities of his etiquette were observed.
    "I've changed my mind somehow," she shrugged her thin brown shoulders.
    On her shrug, I noted to myself that she was slender, but not frail.
    "What! I see this decrepit wreck has caught your fancy!" he exclaimed in ironical indignation. "Shame on you, Alice!"
    "Why "wreck?" she grinned, scrutinizing me in a manner of superficial familiarization: her sparkling eyes seemed focused on my beaming face, and at the same time, they were skimming over my muscular chest under the half-unbuttoned cream-colored batiste shirt and my promising hips and thighs girded with a cowboy's leather belt tightened below the waist on my flat stomach. "Paul has the mien of a sportsman, and I heard a lot about his feats in Russia."
    "I wonder what you mean, my pretty," I inquired snidely, picking up the gauntlet thrown by her. "Feats of creation, don't you? Yes, I am indeed still fighting fit in a certain sense."
    "I feel bound to warn you, my reverent gentleman," Joseph intervened in our beginning swordplay. "She's daughter of my schoolmate, and she's only an onlooker in theater. Don't be child-molester."
    "I swear to God, my molestation will be adequate to her chastity," I reassured him.
    "Ata batuah shetuhal lehasig shivyon?" pronounced Alice in Hebrew with a chuckle. ("Are you sure you can achieve equation?")
    "I'll try," I answered humbly.
    "What did she say?" our elder comrade demanded explanation.
    "I say I'll be adequate to his modesty," she lied in his teeth, nothing daunted.
    "Is it true?" he turned to me.
    "Daughters of Zion never lie!" I declared bombastically.
    "You're telling me!" ejaculated one of the sons of Zion, flinging his hands up. "By the by, Elsie is not altogether Jewess by blood. It is only her father who is Jew."
    "Really?" I stared her up and down. "And what save blue blood is mixed in her breed?"
    "My mother is Russian," she confessed brusquely to her racial flaw.
    "Purebred?" I could not refrain from raillery.
    It should be noted that in Israel each of the faithful counted all the others scions of not thoroughbred Jewry, and the criterions of the Medieval obscurantism in establishing a national inferiority complex on this basis prevailed everywhere.
    "Purest down to Abraham," she caught up my derision of the local arrogant orthodoxy-directly encroaching on her own rights in its scornful hubris.
    "At last!" I exulted, opening my arms. "Reunion of compatriots!"
    Alice did not fail to take an opportunity and, without hesitation, fell into my open arms, putting up her face for my Russian thrice-repeated kissing.
    "Hey, rascals!" Joseph wedged his corpulent body between ours. But our short embrace had done yet what it was to do, and the fragrances of our high perfume had still more heightened the tension of our mutual attraction fixed with a slight touch of her tough breasts on my solar plexus. "You make a fool of me with your Hebrew!"
    "Israel, Uncle Joe, it is such a place where Israelis are coding Jews," Elsie enlightened him, stepping back, as though recoiling from the fattish hulk, a little sweaty by the afternoon.
    Despite some stylish negligence in appearance setting the fashion here, the citizens of our liberal megalopolis were very squeamish in their hygiene and sometimes indulged in taking a shower twice in the course of the day, sparing no expense to keep cleanness and freshness.
    "So, I am in company of two Hebrew-speaking Slavonic anti-Semites with citizenship of Israel," concluded "Uncle Joe".
    "Alice in the Wonderland is the book of my life," she instantly dropped a repartee.
    "How much time we have today?" I interjected.
    "If you refer to my time, then about four hours," Joseph notified me, somewhat reproachfully, of his onerous presence at our spontaneous rendezvous.
    "Okay, let's go to an ice-cream parlor," I proffered a variant of pastime for the obviously superfluous hours. "Or, maybe, someone is hungry?"
    "Someone is not averse to supplementing her starvation ration."
    She cast such an unambiguous glance at me that it was as clear as day what starvation she hinted at.
    "Well, we'll be clement to the famished," I promised with the utmost persuasiveness. "I pledge my word."
    "I see you two have decided to speak in innuendos," Joseph commented sarcastically upon our subtexts. "But please, without speaking the language of my ancestors. Otherwise I feel myself more Slav than you."
    "Very good, my white-faced brother. Welcome!" I waved him on towards Rothschild Boulevard through the vista of some unpresentable four-storey buildings of old development standing in two serried ranks with the shops and snack bars of their ground floors. "All the attractions of our magnificent town are available for you!"
    "Thanks, I'm flattered," he hemmed. "This magnificence simply rests my eyes after Moscow tower-blocks."
    "We are small, but proud," I said placidly, setting off down the street. "If so, then henceforth we'll be employing exclusively ambiguities, dodges, and quibbles."
    *
    The next half an hour of the talk was devoted to gossiping about our acquaintances and some affairs of Russian theaters, which were of no interest to sane people and mostly bored our laywoman.
    She joined in our conversation only once.
    In response to the rightful rhetorical question of the occasional visitor, why are there so many black faces in the streets now, she told him with straightforwardness of the one touched on a sore spot:
    "It is because South Tel Aviv becomes African ghetto. If our authorities intend to connive at the illegal immigration of savage Sudaneses, very soon the town will be a horrendous pigsty."
    "I would never think it of such a country," muttered Joseph.
    Undergoing an invasion of hordes of indigent and aggressive Asian migrants in his Moscow, he was pretty flummoxed by her vehemence concerning this problem at our paradisiacal seaside resort.
    "Avidity is international feature," she closed the subject, making way for a bicyclist habitually riding along the pavement among passers-by.
    As Alice was one who needed nutrition, we left the choice of café to her discretion, and after a time, we were already sitting at the square table laid for dinner at the glassed-in verandah of a small restaurant of European cuisine (not Indian or Chinese, thank goodness), viewing the sweltering reality of Israeli bustling in the blissful cool of the well-conditioned space.
    Unlike Joseph having a sweet tooth and our shapely gourmet preferring a good steak before dessert, I began with cold beer and some sorts of cheese from a big plate so as not to waste my digestion for ice-cream and chocolate (especially as I had volunteered to pay the bill for the reason of a certain presentiment relating to the appetite of a dishy eater).
    Sipping my Goldstar from a weighty glass mug, I was keeping up the endless conversation with Joseph until he incidentally mentioned the theater connected for me forever with that hideous suicide in December.
    "Tell me, do you remember one ropy actor there, whom you once slated for his buffoonery?" I put the question to him. "His name is Max. Two years ago, he had thrust his candidature on the title role in my staging and even begun to rehearse not for long. But nothing came of it, and he took umbrage at me for firing from the role. He quitted the stage after this flop."
    "Ah, he's so awkward and affected?"
    "This winter I ran across him in Tel Aviv and was invited to his flat in Jerusalem."
    "And then?"
    "And then he laid hands on himself."
    "Eh? I never heard of it!"
    "I know it by hearsay, too," I hid my knowledge. "Our meeting was casual, and afterwards, I forgot its details."
    "Excuse me," Alice suddenly tore herself from the meat. "Whom do you talk about?"
    We fastened our inquiring looks on her.
    "What's the matter with your Max, I haven't caught," she said. "I'd been acquainted with Russian actor Max in this town."
    "When and how?" I pricked up my ears.
    "In December in a hotel," she answered. "There was some delegation from Russia there, and I was accompanying my inhibited daddy to his friend."
    "What did Max in the hotel?"
    "Nothing special. He mooched about, asking the others who knows whether director Paul living in Israel will come here."
    "Ahem! Thus he was there?" I had an appointment in that hotel and met Max when I went thither. Yet I thought it was a mere coincidence. "Did he tell something about his Israeli life? To me he said he'd repatriated with his wife."
    "As far as I can hazily recollect, he didn't speak of wife and repatriation. At any rate, he knew not a word in Hebrew."
    "It's very strange. It was possibly some scheme."
    "What for?" asked Joseph.
    "I haven't the slightest notion," I lied to both of them.
    Now I quite understood that his revenge was much more prepared than it seemed to me before.
    So we continued to talk of this, that and the other, but I got somewhat uneasy about my involvement in the story, as if I had found a worm-hole in the psychological reasons of Max's deed, which cast some suspicion on the whole action of his tragedy.
    Until I deemed our encounter unexpected, all looked veracious: he had jumped at the chance that added fuel to the fire of his long despair and pushed him to his fatal step; and I could believe in his sincerity and in the possibility of his last vengeful madness. But if there was premeditation in these events, then it turned out that he chose his occasion and acted by design, thence something was amiss in the show he played for me. Nonetheless, he was dead, and he contrived to let me know who is guilty of his death.
    Anyway, I was not in the mood for searching into the cause of someone's derangement in the presence of a lovely creature at times giving me a provocative smile.
    "May I ask how your new generation identifies itself?" I returned my loquacious critic back to earth from the clouds of his professional interests.
    "I mean you don't look like a representative of Russian repatriation," I clarified my perplexity to Elsie. "A real Russian girl in Israel, as a rule, hardly speaks Hebrew, and she is always tetchy because of her fearful slog of charlady or cahier. She is also dreadfully regretting the better odds in her native-land left by her twenty years ago."
    "What's wrong with me?" she chortled on my characterization.
    "You speak Russian with a specific accent, and you're too sure about your rights," I summarized my impressions. "Your unconstraint proclaims you a completely indigenized soviet child. I bet you went to second school here and served in the Army."
    "He is excessively observant, Uncle Joe!" she complained to our intermediary. "With such perspicacity he can guess my occupation and civil status."
    "It's elementary!" I brushed aside difficulties with a wave of my mug. "Your profession is Thai massage, and you have seven children at least."
    "No more?"
    "Well, three of them are adopted. From Sudan. Right?"
    "Absolutely. Except that I live alone, and I am an editor in a publishing house."
    "Incredible! You are a bookworm!"
    "Exactly. And bluestocking. But it is only in proofreading. Besides, at present, I'm on the dole as a graduate of university."
    "Master's degree, of course?"
    "Naturally. Therefore, I am nothing but an Israeli from eight years."
    "Then what about the call of your blood?"
    "Without this call I would never read the Russian classics in the original. My specialty in the university was Hebrew literature, after all."
    "Such a literature really exists?" Joseph put a word at last.
    I exchanged glances with the second philologist in my life (how I hope to add "sexual"!) over such a monstrous gaffe committed by our friend, taking into consideration that the shelves of all the bookstores and bookstalls were crammed with books in Hebrew. As to me, I had once read the excellent translations of Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, the gifts of my daughter, and some plays of the most famous Israeli dramatists in the springtime of my simple-hearted readiness to make my contribution to the local theatrical arts.
    "Perhaps the name Hanoch Levin signifies something to you as a specialist?" I asked, since the conference was devoted to the memory of this playwright, and the Cameri Theater was in essence his theater. "Or Nissim Aloni, for example?"
    The latter was the first modern classic, "the king of the Israeli stage"; and by a strange concurrence of their predestinations, both had died in the two last years of the 20-th century, on the eve of the new millennium.
    "Yes, indeed!" Joseph slapped himself on his domed forehead. "But they are theater people and directors like you."
    "I hate to meddle in your affairs, mister," Alice remarked condescendingly and delved in her garishly painted canvas pouch, "but you must know Nobel prize-laureates in literature, I think. Here is one of them."
    With these words, she fished out a 50-shekel bill from her pouch.
    "Here's our eminent writer Agnon on the bank-note," she showed the portrait. "And our Amos Oz has been nominated twice, by the way."
    "By the way, I had read his novel My Michael," I remembered apropos.
    It goes without saying that I preferred to bracket off the humiliating circumstances of improving my Hebrew on my watchman's shifts. The true Israeli girls could not stand the Russian unskilled losers that vegetated in some labor niches of their prosperity, leading a wretched existence of former soviet barbarians; and I was an exception to a rule owing to my successes in Russia and my freedom from any willing slavery in the unfavorable conditions of this land of promise.
    "The heroine has the same education, hasn't she?" I attempted to fawn on her, taking time by the forelock, so to say.
    "I acknowledge my ignorance, okay!" Joseph capitulated. "Apparently I should learn Hebrew in my youth, not only English and Latin."
    "Belated repentance," I winked at Alice.
    "See how he's adapted himself to Jewish life!" Joseph reprehended my timeserving. "All Jews may envy him!"
    "Because all Jews should have learnt their ancient language like me if they came to live in a foreign country," I illuminated my primitive approach. "Then they could have had some courses and, maybe, even resumed their professional activities, were they stubborn enough. They had better struggle for existence than listen open-mouthed to fairy-tales about the fairy-land flowing with milk and honey."
    "Talks with natives are very cognitive," Joseph made a note to self.
    In his age, he also thought of repatriation after some years, for the reason of his health; but he wished he had lived here and there at once, enjoying the Israeli quality health-service and not losing his good apartment in the capital of Russia, where the medicine was gradually rising in prize and degrading in its standards.
    "May everyone get his deserts-such is the law of our jungle!" Alice pronounced for my premise.
    "To my mind, it is a bit ferocious, but quite just," I endorsed her balanced bestial humanism.
    "You both are tarred with the same brush," Joseph sighed. "Both are young, truculent, and brutal."
    "Repeat, please, the first epithet, sir," I fluffed my feathers. "I'd like to delight in hearing it."
    "Look at yourself in mirror," he shamed me jokingly. "You stud!"
    Here I squared my shoulders and took a swig of beer.
    "The one who leads a life of adventure cannot be a paunchy fumbler," I proclaimed proudly.
    "Thus spake Zarathustra," Joseph wisecracked at my expense.
    "Yes, I'm used to feel at home everywhere, and so I'm always in fighting trim."
    In response to a gaze of our carnivorous popsy, I nodded to her in substantiation of my bragging with my most engaging smile.
    In spite of a popular fallacy, a mug of cold beer ever exerted stimulating influence upon me in all weathers, and its smell ought to have vanished in two next hours even without chewing gum.
    After her meal, Alice did not bid us farewell on some specious pretext, and she rejected my offer of any wine or cocktail in contempt of the rules of ordinary avid seekers of a gratis treat; thus, during the sweet course we went on flirting with danger, interweaving our free-and-easy play with the three-voiced chinwag full of the passing glances and cues remarkable for their unspeakable meaning.
    I would compare the keenness of our mutual unquenchable desire with the alertness of a hound pricked up the scent; and both of us were on the qui vive every second of the idle talk that was so gripping behind our badinage and the veil of a duel of wits being conducted by two flibbertigibbets.
    In the bracing atmosphere of new hunting, I quickly grew younger and still more dauntless in my intentions, yet I did my utmost to curb my imagination and avoid letting off steam prematurely.
    So I was rather glad when our sitting in the café came to an end, and we set out for a walk about the hot town.
    *
    "I heard on the grapevine that you've staged The Seagull at last," Joseph said as we were lounging half an hour later upon one of the benches on the shady side of Dizengoff street in front of a big round fountain, whose vibrating water paling of spurts was springing up in the center of a little square spanned the thoroughfare like a broad arched bridge above the noisy transport streams.
    "Yes, I did," I owned the sin, feasting my eyes on the rainbow in the sunny air around the fountain.
    "My hearty congratulations to you. Success-as usual?"
    "Quite passable. I bargained for a complete masterpiece, though."
    "Your famous sense of imperfection again gnaws your director's soul?"
    "Not only that. I had an ideal Arkadina and lost her at the last moment."
    "Why so?"
    "A fatal accident. And Mary was the pivotal figure in my staging."
    "Mary retired from the theater?"
    "Yes, forever. She died then."
    "What a pity! She was such a superb actress and died so early!"
    "In any case, they are going to put forward my The Seagull for the festival Gold Mask. Perhaps you'll see what it is in actuality."
    "I never miss your productions, as you know. Yet I cannot promise anything for certain in my present vanity of vanities."
    "Is Paul really a serious artist?" Alice gave me a quizzical glance from behind Joseph's rotund belly.
    "He is very serious," the strict critic tried to suggest to the flippant adventuress that she should venerate such a national treasure, "and very profound."
    "Sometimes," I corrected him. "As a stage-director, I have many guileful guises, including hypostasis of a sage and a blithe blatherer."
    "Surely he doesn't joke, Uncle Joe," she addressed Joseph, fixedly looking at me.
    The peculiar expressiveness of the look of her screwed hazel eyes was the last straw for my many-sided nature-to tip the scale in favor of the image of an incorrigible voluptuary.
    But clearly, I was forced to set my profligacy back till the more apposite point. Like a hobbled stallion, I could only invoke God's help for my restraint and from time to time neigh my allusive heckling comments.
    Luckily for my forbearance, God displayed lenience and clemency, and to the sophisticatedly-modernistic monumental building of the new Cameri Theater, erected at the corner of a great avenue and narrow Leonardo da Vinci street, I arrived with the former inexhaustible supply of my sensual energies.
    "Here is the cultural heart of our never-sleeping town!" I announced with pathos, ushering Joseph through a side passage into the inner court-square that this white-stoned marvelous castle was embracing with the wide glazed latticed facades of the very Cameri and the Israeli Opera.
    "Over there, everyone can see the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Municipal Library," I pointed my guide's finger at the other buildings of the Performing Arts Center complex. "In this place, our intellectuals are used to pass the time, now perusing treatises now seeing picture-galleries now attending concerts now getting pleasure from the dramatics. In the invigorating crisp air of sublime art, we artists obtain an asylum from troubles and worries and draw our inspiration from beholding such a constellation of Muses."
    "You will go to these theaters so often?" Joseph found difficulty in giving credence to my pompous hype.
    "To these, I've had no opportunity to go hitherto," I sighed sanctimoniously with droopy eyes, "as well as to any theater at all."
    "It would be indeed unwise to spend the money earned by staging one show on looking on another," Alice unmasked me, viewing the shining splendor of the wide-winged concave front of the Cameri Theater.
    "Besides, it would be a hard trial for a professional to estimate works of his colleagues," I vindicated myself.
    "Why must you estimate anything?" asked Joseph, setting his eyes on a buoyant bosomy wench bejeweled with tawdry cheap jewelry, who ruled the roost in a covey of foreign spectators. "It is my sphere, not yours."
    "My vision cannot be blinkered," I confessed bashfully. "All-seeing is a concomitant inalienable attribute of mastery."
    "You are, it seems, dragging out a sedentary existence in that library," Alice estimated the wealth of my vocabulary. "Soon, your word stock will have exceeded the lexical resources of my Hebrew."
    "Then we'll be speaking language of gestures," I intimated to her my covert desire by a very transparent hint.
    "That's just what you aspire to achieve, in my humble opinion," Joseph grumbled disapprovingly, waving a greeting to the freckled wench, who looked, with her straw-colored lanky hair and in her gaudy chlamys, like a peasant, but chattered fluently in Russian, English, and Hebrew alternately.
    "You shouldn't walk in the sun so long, Uncle Joe," Alice perverted his reproach resourcefully with innocent attentiveness. "You are all red already from our heat."
    "It's again my damned blood pressure," Joseph took a deep breath, wiping the sweat off his brow, for he undeniably got red in the face.
    "Consequently, your hour has struck, and it is time to visit this heathen temple of stagecraft," I hurried to introduce a motion. "When shall we have the pleasure to see you once more?"
    "I like his "we"!" Joseph appealed in vain to the indifferently serene sky. "With these locals, I'm destined to become a procurer pandering to their dissoluteness!"
    "It's all right for now," Alice smoothed things over. "As yet we haven't gone further than friendship of generations."
    "Just hark to her!" the newly fledged pimp again disturbed the heavens. "Don't tell me that you aren't impatient to remain tete-a-tete!"
    "Only out of sheer curiosity," she swore ambiguously.
    "Promises are made to be broken," said Joseph. "The day after tomorrow, our assembly goes to the Habima; and an hour before, I'm waiting for you at the entrance. This will be the last day, so maybe the banquet will be arranged earlier, as a parting dinner."
    "Okay, then cheerio!" I slightly bowed, since our trio approached the bunch of the members of the conference, and our interlocutor was about to join their company.
    "Good evening, my good sir," one of the foreigners, a shaggy bloke with a straggly beard and bushy brows above round black sunglasses, greeted him.
    "Good evening," Joseph answered, though by all appearances, he did not recognize the stranger having on a safari suit like his own one (which was evidence that this mummer belonged to a tribe of tourists).
    "Be on your guard against swindlers," Alice recommended the townsman of the capital of roguery. "Don't trust aliens nor tribesmen."
    "Thank you for warning," Joseph smiled. "Goodbye, my kids."
    I decided not to wait for his dignifying me by the name of a goat and led my kiddy in the direction of the passage.
   
    SCENE 6
   
    "Thus, it is still daylight," I said on the pavement of the rumbling and hooting avenue.
    "And?" asked Elsie.
    "And we are free," I continued.
    "And?" she repeated.
    "And we have stacks of time. The question is whether we shall impugn the thesis of broken promises or concur with the worldly wisdom," I answered.
    "You know how to voice your thought," she raised her eyes.
    "And how to indicate my intentions," I added.
    "And?" she stared straight into my eyes.
    "There are many options in the town," I alluded gingerly to rooms for hire by the hour, and from the expression of her stare I understood that she got what was implied.
    "No," she declined my offer, but in such a chest-voice that I thrilled with lickerish anticipation from her tacit "Yes". "By train, it is ten minutes' journey to my suburb."
    "Do you have a flat there?"
    "It's a rented flat. The train goes every hour."
    "Agreed. May I ring for taxi?"
    "By bus, we'll reach the station much sooner."
    "You're the boss. Let's go?"
    "Affirmative."
    It was as cold in the bus as in a refrigerator (the Israeli hot-tempered drivers had such a salutary habit of using their air-conditioners in summer), yet no frost could cool the fervor of a mettlesome steed in the person of the male half of our mute duet.
    Elsie did not reduce the temperature of her prepossession either; and after someone's ring and her terse answer in Hebrew, she switched off her mobile phone with a curt annotation: "Endless verbiage!"
    Forsooth, the time was ripe for action, which made all empty phrases irrelevant; therefore, we were mostly silent both in the carriage of the train full of the commuters returning home from work (as we had little time for sitting, we stayed at the platform near the door) and on the road across some vast meadows of dry stubble to the settlement comprising many bright modern buildings of four or nine storey integrated in one architectural ensemble of a nice small town without any wretched decrepit houses and neighboring skyscrapers, as it was habitual in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
    "There's rare quiet in your hamlet," I marked at the finish line of our speedy advancement to the destination, by the entrance of her four-storied standard edifice, whose unpretentiousness was essentially supplemented with its adjoining individual parking lots on the left side and with the green hedges of the yards of the ground floors ranged in front of the house.
    "That's why I rent my garret here," she said. "It has a place on the roof to boot."
    "I'm burning with impatience to rise there," I confessed honestly to my aspiration, opening the glass door to let her inside.
    With the lowered indispensable jalousie of the only window and the shut white door of the balcony, the very pertinent semidarkness reigned in the room of the garret fitted for the plain living of a bachelor girl: a computer corner, a gas-cooker with a tiny kitchen table between the balcony and the door of bathroom, a big flat television-set before the spacious soft ottoman, occupied the most of the room and vivified with a motley pile of pillows, and several shelves with books and files along two walls above the working place.
    "Any beverages?" Alice touched her white fridge after turning on the air-conditioner and the player extracted by her out of her pouch.
    "Maybe."
    "Take what you want," she permitted, sliding into the bathroom through the half-open door.
    "What I want to take is much hotter," I thought, taking out a begun plastic liter bottle of Pepsi and swallowing the icy fizzy liquid indecorously out of the neck.
    The problem was that the jeans were already too tight to hide my libidinous yearning, and for this reason, I slackened the belt and pulled my batiste shirt out, to conceal my mighty erection for some time.
    And as soon as Elsie appeared in a bathrobe on the threshold, I also dived into the narrow compartment with a shower cubicle, having dropped an indistinct apology.
    I needed a pair of minutes for rinsing my mouth and washing my instrument while she was preparing the ottoman, since it was as plain as the nose on my face being reflected in her mirror above the sink that our intercourse in bed became inevitable.
    For combat readiness, I took my shoes off and remained my belt unbuckled, though I did not venture, nonetheless, to go out without trousers to my still dressed dame.
    But I misjudged her passionate temper, because the coverlet was thrown aside, and she immediately turned to me, unbinding the girdle of her pale-rose bathrobe.
    I had no choice but to let my jeans fall, and the rest of our clothes was flung off by us simultaneously, excepting my black swimming trunks, tearing under pressure of passion.
    "It's something," the hospitable hostess welcomed her long-awaited heated guest, embracing me.
    Just as I expected, Elsie was stark naked under her terry peignoir, and she pressed her breasts impetuously to my chest, while her bare tummy clung to the aforementioned "something"-to sense its full length.
    It must be owned, she could scarcely call my little brother "little", for my staff reached her ribs, and I even got anxious what if such a size might scare her.
    Yet she did not scare easily; and with a jerk, she pulled off the fig leaf of my trunks from my hips down to my knees.
    It was easy to guess her next deed in close proximity to this object of her desire, the knob of which propped her very throbbing heart between her hardened dark-brown nipples; however, at the present moment, I had my own urgent tasks not allowing me to yield rashly to temptation of oral sex.
    "Contraceptives?" I asked prudently, hugging her and pushing the last article of underwear with my right foot to the slippery tiled floor.
    "Never mind," she answered-her bosom heaving and her lissome body slithering up and down the natural stripper pole.
    "Am I to infer that you're ready?" I squeezed her tensed firm buttocks in my palms.
    "Completely," she breathed and slightly shuddered with voluptuousness.
    "Let me do it without spooning," I whispered, a little lifting her up. "This brooks no delay."
    "Only for acquaintance," she countenanced my initiative, in a whisper, too.
    And a second later, she was already lying on her back, her legs wide apart in the air, and I was on her.
    Although the first penetration was short and tempestuous, my shot and her climax coincided for a wonder despite its shortness, which, true, by no means satisfied our mutual hunger.
    When, after the second full contact, the last twitching of her shuddering body stilled under mine, I was going, naturally, to take breath, but here, rising above her on my hands and knees, I saw her lasciviously-hazy hazel eyes, so known to me from my student youth, and at once, my lips adhered to the mouth of my giddy girl in an insatiable drawn-out kiss interminably inflaming my lustful obsession.
    A new rush of blood to my groin imparted the former inflexible erectness to my truest friend, again full of vim and vigor, and this time, my attack was protracted and sophisticatedly diversified in such a degree that my groaning slim maenad managed to have finished twice, now muffledly snarling and biting her lower lip with her blissfully closed eyes now pattering with her bare heels on my loins in the feverish rhythm of the approaching ecstatic culmination.
    "You're cool, guy," she lisped inaudibly, floating in the heavens of her bliss in the pause of our first respite and peering at me from under her narrowed eyelids.
    "Not entirely," I threw out a catty remark. "Some embers are still smoldering."
    "You mean-"to be continued"?" she looked at me in amazement.
    "With your approbation," I left the decision to her, for I was far from exhaustion. "I'm not a rapist."
    "You're monster," she attested tenderly to my aptitude for sex.
    It is understood that I interpreted her attestation as an encouragement and resumed my preliminary caresses in order to keep my instinct alive.
    What always bewildered me in my liaisons was a quality of few women to be sexy without any connection with their beauty and other merits. I could never explain this strange selectivity of my sexuality, and I eventually picked a rather ribald definition of it, namely the word "fuckable" fitting the elect, inasmuch as every time, I would come to hanker for one of them all at once, simply shaking with an itch to possess her then and there.
    I think there was a certain type of "my females" in the world, and my rare chance encounters with each of the odalisques of my planetarily dispersed harem was similar to a short circuit fraught with unpredicted consequences. It seemed incomprehensible why I was unable to bridle my maniacal recklessness in these cases if I could usually master all my fits of horniness and never was in thrall to my passions, but thus matters stood with my untamable Eros.
    Alice belonged unquestionably to a small number of my genuine halves, though her lean body was appreciably inferior at first sight to the fetching shapes of some curvaceous heifers I knew in the past; and very soon, her salaciously-moving delicious tushy drove me to the orgiastic excesses that flared up again and again at every change of position and made my irrepressible tool work anew, losing count of her orgasms.
    I was, of course, a bit befuddled with her frankness in carnal desire, yet I was not drunk with love, nor was I flushed with my conquest of her, given that my insatiability demanded her flesh imperatively, and although my lovemaking was becoming plentiful to a fault, I went on "screwing the ass off" her in the same vein.
    My indefatigable craziness lasted until my energy rendered my concubine motionlessly enervated. By then, true, I was no less incapacitated for new attempts.
    "My apologies for importunity," I panted out after I rolled off her perspired body and sprawled on my back beside her.
    "Sly-boots," she mumbled without stirring. "They say age is taking its toll."
    "Age is no disqualification," I questioned her adage.
    "Yes, I'm a proof," riposted my inamorata in a drowse.
    "Today I've slightly overdone, maybe, and, for the nonce, come to the end of my resources," I expressed ironical sorrow, inwardly gleeful. "But when you again conceive a whim to have a refutation of such a biased opinion, you have only to call me."
    "Good idea," she muttered, drifting off to dream. "I can't see you out."
    "No matter. Sleep peacefully; I'll wake you to lock the door."
    "Shut it-and good speed," she ended her being awake. "I'm sexhausted."
    *
    On the way to the station, I looked in at a small pizzeria and had a whole family pizza, washed down with beer, in the open air still hot and muggy in the summer twilight, reflecting how curious was my pride in the case of wearing a sex-starved minx out by my purely bodily potency, unexpectedly proved titanic against my age.
    Such is human nature (of a bearer of virility-in particular), and to my shame, I was proud of myself as if I had gained a great victory today, notwithstanding that I made no effort for any seduction, and any regulation of hormone upsurges without stimulants was not in my power.
    Furthermore, in August my wife was to fly away to Europe for two weeks; consequently, I could spare this infatuation some part of my free time intended for the spadework to my staging of Hamlet in September-October in Russia (the premiere was scheduled for early November).
    Therefore, I received Elsie's call tomorrow with unconcealed gladness; and our second date already included all proper canoodling-cuddling-billing and cooing as well as many other tricks of skillful petting, interspersed with sufficiently long ebullitions of union and with more and more prolonged natters in the intervals of our impressive show.
    "How do you guess what I want?" asked Alice in one of them.
    "Professional susceptibility," I jested.
    "Or rather it's sensuousness. But you can achieve harmony, stranger," she praised me.
    "Faint heart never won fair lady," I laughed off her idolatry of my insubstantial puissance.
    "And you don't look your age," was her additional compliment.
    "With you I can hold my own against anyone," I reciprocated.
    "Why?"
    "That's an uncanny phenomenon. Either the culprit in my rejuvenation is an intrinsic partiality of my perverted ego for skinny chits, or, most likely, I fell under your baneful influence."
    "Videlicet?"
    "I grow immodestly immoderate from your sex-appeal."
    "It's a vice flattering me if it is not decorum, of course."
    "Do you think I am a star of skin-flicks?"
    "Something like that. True sometimes you eclipse all porno-stars."
    "Perhaps, I'm a hunky guy, but you're my exclusive variant. God seldom sends a divine afflatus to a man in this mortal coil."
    As if on my reference to the merciful Heavens, there came a long doleful wail from on high outside.
    Only from the melodious modulations of its maudlin continuation, I divined what it was.
    "Is it a prayer, right?" I determined. "I didn't espy a minaret in your settlement."
    "It is the minaret of Arabic village, far enough from us, behind the eucalyptus grove. Simply they're praying through loud-speaker."
    "By nights they are keening, too?"
    "Yes, but I don't notice their laments. Anyway, it is lasting a minute and resembling a lullaby."
    "Or a dirge at a tumulus."
    "You have rather Scythian associations."
    "They just suit my barbaric origin. On the other hand, owing to my barbarity, I have no notion of Platonic love."
    "Really?" she hadn't believed me, laying her hand of a rightful possessor on the vigilant phallus of her Hellenic faun. "Or this is a bare assertion?"
    Her instigation could not go off with impunity, and our conversation again turned into a dialogue of two bodies.
    "By the way, what are you going to do in August?" I asked her in the next pause of our smooching.
    "To remain in number of loiterers," she answered. "Do you have something to offer me?"
    "I'd offer my escort for half a month. I'll be at large then, and we might have been loafing about together."
    "What kind of pastime do you plan?"
    "Lying on the beach, swimming at sea, eating-drinking-talking and such like," I produced a short enumeration of delights. "Agree?"
    "It's very alluring," she smacked her lips. "Especially I am interested in "such like". How about tangibles?"
    "All will be hell," I wittily modified the trite proverb. "Just "such like" is my chief object."
    "Then you've almost talked me into it."
    "Why almost?"
    "I am reluctant to bind me by promise. Yet, I still have nothing to do in August, to tell the truth."
    "Done!" I exclaimed. "The rest is of no importance. More importantly how we spend time tomorrow."
    "Tomorrow-no bonking!"
    "Absolutely?"
    "Of course, not. But at first, we must meet with Uncle Joe. If I invite such a rake before, I'm unable to walk after," she warranted her drastic measures. "And with this obscene countenance I look like a floozy."
    She was right: concupiscence was blatantly written all over her face; the question was, however, that just it enhanced an inexplicable affinity between us and made me literally addicted to our "wallowing in lechery", which I could hardly call "love" or even "infatuation" (if anything, I would have defined our relations as "mania").
    For a certain reason, I did not inform my houri of the extent of my craziness about her, since I hadn't the vaguest idea of any future of our sudden obsession. As I knew from my experience, such a passion was flaming not very long, for after some short period of the uttermost attraction, both of us somehow subconsciously felt cloyed with each other, and all the perversions of the sublunary world were powerless to fan the former flames anew. In these cases, any professions of love were precarious and ephemeral, as the all-consuming fire seemed to burn both souls to ashes, so that no feeling could germinate thenceforth in the cinder of our post-prurient estrangement.
    From my highlighting this paramount kind of lust it does not follow that all the other forms of love are bereft of carnality and sexual magnetism, yet the given type consists of sex utterly and completely, lacking contrariwise in some less passionate emotions. I don't complain, but it was fiendishly difficult to be an object of a zealous desire too long, and it was a flaming nuisance to quit this trial too quick.
    In short, the most I intended to obtain in any event was to delight in a two weeks' love affair having no continuation, because Alice's demeanor did not bear any implicit threat, such as a premeditated pregnancy and ensuing blackmail with the aim of extortion or marriage under duress.
    Really, it would be an unpardonable mistake to allow your frivolity to turn into your lifelong yoke for harnessing you to the senseless grind of a duped duffer through perfidiousness of your partner in fornication.
   
    SCENE 7
   
    The next day was devoted by me to Shakespeare.
    There were some unanswered questions in his play, and I had to verify my surmises about them-to make sure of uniqueness of my unborrowed solutions in the theatrical tradition of Hamlet; otherwise, my conception of the staging might be either a variation of a loan-theme or an unwittingly lifted idea.
    In particular, this regarded Ghost of Hamlet's Father and Hamlet's crony Horatio, on the analysis of whose key figures my interpretation of Hamlet depended, contrary to the generally accepted auxiliary function of their roles.
    As a stage-director, I ever read every play as if it were an unknown work of an obscure dramatist, and I were the first reader of it; only then could I see what was actually going in the play, and how it was constructed by its author.
    After my daylong excursus into the surveys of some theaters on this subject in the Internet (in addition to my half-yearly research on the treatment of Shakespeare's chief tragedy from the Elizabethan epoch up to our days), I had certain questions to Joseph about the Russian productions of Hamlet that were not reviewed anywhere within reach.
    The sun just began to sink in the west, shining in the sky above the Mediterranean Sea, and the shadow of the bulky building of the famous theater, partly shading Habima square from the sunset, did not yet reduce the temperature of the oppressive sultriness resembling the dry heat of a kiln for baking bricks.
    A sparse crowd of theater addicts already gathered in the shadow by a big showcase with the stand exhibiting the photos of some spectacles. These tableaux vivants had once deterred me from a rash attempt of offering my services to the pretty conservative National troupe, whereby I had saved myself from an insultingly polite refusal in that critical time of my futile efforts to stay afloat in my art.
    From Rothschild Boulevard I could descry the hunter's costume of Joseph and the same garment of that bearded queer rubberneck in sunglasses, who probably had a fancy for hanging about among theatergoers or was one of them.
    On surveying the square, I found no sign of Alice's presence there and headed for the huge barrel-like glass bulge of the imposingly massive edifice by myself, in the hope of folding her in my arms an hour later, when our venerable friend went to relish the local old-fashioned stagecraft, middling enough for my refined taste.
    At my approach, Joseph stepped a few yards towards me, and his countenance seemed suspicious to my fresh look.
    "What's amiss?" I peered in his bloodshot eyes. "It's your hypertonia?"
    "Very likely. It struck me only just and somehow suddenly."
    He reached for the breast patch pocket of his safari shirt, and I noticed a small scratch on his forearm.
    "Have you any water to take a pill?" he asked, fumbling in the pocket.
    "Just a moment," I excused myself, looking round. "I haven't, but I'll procure it."
    In Israel, many people carried little bottles of drinking water with them, to avoid dehydration in the arid climate in summer; and indeed, such a bottle was in the hands of that shaggy fellow standing near at hand.
    "May I trouble you, sir, for a trifle?" I inquired courteously in Russian.
    "That depends," he aimed his opaque black goggles at me in some bafflement.
    "I'd like to borrow your bottle for a swallow. My friend urgently needs to take his medicine lest he should have an apoplectic fit," I explained it shortly. "If it is not inconvenient to you."
    "No, please," he said hoarsely, handing me his bottle.
    "You see his complexion," I lent a confidential tone to my request, unscrewing the bottle lid. "Thank you for help."
    "Don't mention it," he wheezed out indistinctly in a low and husky voice, whereas I hurriedly gave Joseph the procurable water.
    Here my attention was diverted by the appearance of my glamorous and garishly conspicuous tawny chick at the far end of the sunlit space.
    I waved at her and watched her approaching within about half a minute.
    Then I again glanced at Joseph returning the bottle to the spectacled hirsute gaper.
    His pill presumably took no effect, for his complexion turned purple by now, and he was bathed in sweat.
    "I am awfully sorry," he licked his parched lips, rubbing the beads of sweat stood out on his red forehead over his wet face with his palm. "I must come inside."
    "Lean on my arm," I ordered him compassionately. "You had better rest in the coolness."
    "You're right," he agreed in a faint voice. "I feel seedy today. Let's come to our guide, or else I may collapse here for no apparent reason."
    He meant the flashily dressed loquacious wench that I saw two days ago, since she was in charge at the entrance as before.
    "The reason is quite simple," I disproved his causelessness. "You shouldn't roam about the town in this fierce heat."
    Joseph did not answer. Overpowered with heat and faintness, he staggered towards the saving door, not without my support, but on his own two feet, and I helped him in the foyer, as their sprightly organizer just proceeded to beckon the members of the conference in.
    Meantime Alice had crossed the square and come up to the theater.
    "Greetings!" she hailed me behind my back. "What's going on here?"
    "Nothing extraordinary," I turned to her. "Except that your uncle Joe begins to feel his age."
    "Very sad to hear it," she curved her cherry, sexily glossy lips in a sorrowful grimace. "Hopefully his aged confrere does not share his feeling?"
    "Not in the least."
    "I trust I'll receive proofs of it."
    "Take it from me!"
    "Be sure I shall take it all and a little more."
    "No objection. So we got rid of him tonight," I rejoiced, being on the verge of an impulsive osculation under the gaze of her smoky sultry eyes.
    Yet it was a mistake for me to jump to conclusions, because out of the theater popped a fat usherette hysterically calling the head of the group, and the freckled chatterbox rushed to the entrance.
    "Wait a bit," I slightly restrained my impetuosity-to see what would be further. "Maybe it is he who's brought about all the pother."
    For some minutes, we could only hear the increasing hubbub behind the glass walls and watch some commotion of the milling spectators in the illuminated lobby, but it was impossible to discern our friend among those scurrying figures even through the transparent panes.
    Then the educated buxom hoyden again appeared before the door and started brandishing her cell phone to muster the rest of her covey and usher them in.
    "I wonder what's happened there," I put a leading question to her. "Is there anything wrong with Joseph?"
    "Are you acquainted with him?" she asked me in reply.
    "More or less," I avoided giving a direct answer. "He was complaining of high blood pressure recently, that's why I distract you from your work."
    "His pressure was too increased," she said, knitting her ginger brows. "We wait for an ambulance, but I'm afraid he has died."
    "What?" I started.
    "He is dead, I say," she confirmed her news gloomily, dialing a number. "Now, we'll have to organize the transportation of his body to Moscow and solve many other problems. Hello, dearie, it's me."
    Her latter phrase was pronounced in Hebrew, with using the ubiquitous form of familiar address "motek".
    "How'd you like that!" Alice reacted upon the shocking information. "It is simply incredible!"
    "Sudden death is always a great surprise," I gritted my teeth.
    It was the second surprise of such a kind since I beheld the speared body of that seer in the blood issuing from his horrible wound in that foul hole of the old quarter of Jerusalem.
    In other words, his dying wish was being fulfilled by some demon implementing the idea of his incantation: death had overtaken me once more, and its suddenness quite drove me to despair, because it became crystal-clear that this fate might befall everyone having any connection with my bewitched life, doomed to endure the imprecation of a hex consigning me to this fateful persecution until my dying day. I hated superstitions, but the signs of malediction were very cogent.
    "I suppose we should stay here till arrival of ambulance," I said, breaking a heavy silence.
    "Undoubtedly," Alice concurred with me. "Our rendezvous is, I understand, cancelled?"
    "I'm sorry," I rejoined, listening intently to the sound of the kerfuffle in the hall. "I am not in the mood for any talk tonight, so I fear to deteriorate our relations."
    "Yes, you are obviously in a bad temper," she acquiesced. "But it is useless to accuse anyone of such an accident."
    "Why do you think I accuse myself?" I darted a suspicious glance at her.
    "I am still sighted. Though it's rather reasonable, or else you'd mar all my pleasure."
    "Good that you are such a judicious girlie. You don't seem disposed to condole or be a consoler, and better get over my fit of the sulks without random victims. However, the agreement remains valid; from tomorrow, I shall try to restore my spirits."
    "What if not?"
    "Then from the day after tomorrow. In misfortune, I prefer to be a loner."
    "What a calamity is his death for you, I can't grasp it. Why are you getting into a tizzy about the things, which do not concern yourself? Some affairs in Russia?"
    "No, that's another story. Firstly, I feel obligated to him; secondly, he is already the third one among my acquaintances in Russian theater who has departed this life so unexpectedly. This sequence frightens me."
    "You're a real artist, pal," she quirked her eyebrows. "You can find weirdness even in ordinariness. Soon you'll imagine putting a jinx on all of them."
    "Just it occurred to me at first."
    "On mature reflection, you revised your conjecture, didn't you?"
    "Yes, I somewhat exaggerated the interconnection of these coincidences."
    "You drew quite sensible an inference."
    "Nonetheless, I am in the state of uncertainty and suspense. Aren't all the incidents components of one plot of some play being written by destiny?-that is the question. For God knows who will be slain next time, then."
    "Don't talk nonsense!" she flared up at my mysticism depriving her of her dismayed lover for the evening. "Everybody hangs by a thread of the Fates and has a chance to pop off at any time! That's enough of your foreboding and soothsaying-prophets get on my nerves."
    "I have no intention of annoying you with my occultism. Today, I'm forced to replace love-potion by whisky."
    "You're a sot."
    "And dipso. But only for a while."
    Our half-jesting squabble was interrupted by the approach of the yellow ambulance called to Joseph.
    Two paramedics in the uniform looking like white T-shirts of guards with an emblem of red magen david on the left breast pocket quickly wheeled their light stretcher-trolley into the vestibule of the sanctum of Melpomene. Ten minutes later, they returned, pushing the hospital cart loaded with a massive body motionlessly bulging under the sheet.
    "What's up, guys? He's really dead?" Alice consulted one of them in passing.
    "Sorry, ma'am," the stolid soldierly-stalwart guy dropped apathetically without halting. "It's too late!"
    In essence, there was no need to ask about Joseph's state, because his lifeless flesh was covered wholly, and he had not an oxygen mask on his face nor a needle of a drip in his vein.
    "How can I get information of the dispatch of the body?" I stopped the smart chunky lover of costume jewelry going out of the theater after the paramedics, her phone pressed to her ear, to inspect that no separated member of her group lingered here.
    Like a conjurer, she snapped her fingers and slipped me silently a business card, hearkening to someone's voice in her cellular.
    Now nothing detained us by the Habima Theater.
    "Well, you may go," said Alice, glowering at me. "This time, I'll condescend to your artistic impressionability, but my patience isn't limitless."
    "I can say ditto," I said. "Yet it would be the worst solution to relegate my sincerity to sham."
    "I don't reproach you. I am mourning my destroyed hopes, which you've been dangling before me so long," she sighed ruefully.
    "It is for two nights at most," I comforted her. "Let me digest it."
    "Do as you will, Paul. You're quite free."
    "Not from myself. Call me, okay?"
    "Don't break my heart," she quoted the line of the famous song.
    "I sweep aside even such an assumption."
    "You have a smooth tongue, man, but I'll believe you. As for me, I am awaiting a proof of your declaration."
    "Should I accompany you to the station?"
    "No. Goodbye, my denizen of coulisses."
    "Goodbye, my nymph of parterre," I repelled the lunge of her sarcasm, and we parted.
    *
    It is perhaps worth mentioning that there were two more very important things in my relations with Alice: the first was that she had a pretty tiny silver bead in her pierced navel (in addition to her tattoos, including a colored butterfly in the triangle of the small of the back above her adorable bottom); the second was our manner of talking Russian and Hebrew alternately.
    In bed, she usually switched from one language to another, native to her, and I always encouraged her in her Hebrew-speaking so that the very sounding of our intercourse would differ as far as possible from my Russian conversations in my family. Besides, many terms of sex were more admissible in Hebrew than in Russian, being employed as some common and not scurrilous expressions in Israel, which would considerably facilitate the very process of wooing or soliciting for both participants of game in the decisive stages of their mutuality and purged their passage to intimacy of any soupcon of scabrousness and of any taint of ribaldry.
    At present, picturing to myself my homecoming with downright disgust, I was fully aware of what I should find there, viz. my tired irritable spouse watching TV-shows and serials-ever enraging me in my meditation and in my musing on the images of the future staging emerging in my imagination. My patience had been too frequently tested with her insensitivity hardened in the hardship of repatriation; and now, being highly strung, I could not abide her hostile indifference to my mental anguish in such a moment of tense excitement.
    Therefore, I decided to honor her with my return no earlier than after her going to sleep in the midnight, having phoned her to notify of my delay in a sober voice, forasmuch as my visualization of this evening presupposed drinking without anyone's admonition.
    What else would I have had to do with the bottle of whisky Jack Daniel's bought by me in the supermarket near my dwelling-place?
    The complete set of my equipment for mulling over the inauspicious chain of events also included one and half liter bottle of icy Coca-Cola and the familiar bench under the plume-like crown of a date palm in the asphalt ring that encircled a small grassy hillock playing the part of a lawn.
    I did not know what an object I pursued in sitting here, but I could not even see anybody, let alone talk with people. I loathed listening to the continual vociferous chatter and philistine gossips filling the surroundings of my borough, for I was conscious of the existence of something dreadful in the recurrence of the deadly twists of Fate, as though its sped arrow had grazed past me today to remind me of my vulnerability.
    Ever since my eyes had lighted on that announcement of his last will bequeathing to me his own bad luck, there was a curse upon me, and misfortunes threatened to persecute me till the bitter end, endangering all my plans for the future.
    I felt as if I became a target for shooting from nowhere: some unseen archer aimed at my life, drawing a bow in the abysmal intangibility of the unearthly dimension of the objective reality, and the next death-arrow might hit everyone who had any relation to my biography in one way or another.
    From the realization of my defenselessness in the face of kismet, I gradually passed to indignation against these shots at random and against an injustice of human dying as such in the infinity and everlastingness of the universe, empting both my bottles in turn in the obduracy of my theomachy and murmuring at the ruthless vagaries of the Creator.
    Fortunately, neither impertinent teenagers nor cheeky black Sudaneses disturbed my sinking in trance, because I was too irascible in my mirthless moodiness to keep from smashing someone's ugly mug or at least from administrating a sharp reproof, improper in the local tradition of children's liberty of action and fraught with a stab of knife for an unbidden mentor in adolescence.
    To the last sip of whisky, I was immersed in rumination in such a degree that the landscape around turned completely into a fluctuating misty mirage, while my corporeal self lost its orientation not only in the space and time but also in its own identity, whereupon I went reeling to wander about in the vicinity of my house, essaying to find the entrance haphazard, as in the field of my vision I saw nothing but some spinning iridescent fog obscuring the outlines of the strange buildings and their numbers (not to speak of reading the names of the streets).
    Next morning, I did not remember how I had got home. To the best of my recollection, I seemed to have been watching a competition of bull riding by TV before falling in the arms of Morpheus in my security-den in order to avoid exhaling the intoxicating fumes of my arcane elixir in the nose of my displeased sober wife. Thus, Tennessee's divine distillate introduced me, after all, into the peculiarly American entertainment with the daredevil cowboys being tossed and thrown off by the rabidly whirling and wildly leaping bulls.
    Anyhow, my having a load on in solitude had washed off the poignancy of my first emotion, whereas the hangover had blunted my ludicrous indignant protest against the Almighty and Everlasting, whose cataclysmic and calamitous pranks exacted resignation before the disastrousness of God's decisions from a mortal sighing in reply, "Thy will be done", and not daring to buck against fate.
    "If I am not mistaken, you were sloshed yesterday?" my observant Ann demanded an account of me in the evening after her return from work. "What's the cause?"
    "Increased death-rate," I gave her an evasive answer. "Yesterday, one of my old acquaintances suddenly passed on nearly before my eyes. I was under such a strong impression of his demise that I couldn't but wet my whistle."
    "He's Israeli?"
    "No, Russian, though Jew. And he died in Tel Aviv."
    "I hope you had the sense not to meddle in this."
    "Never fear! The affair promises to be very expensive, and I am not going to mess with it. Why ought I to squander my earned money on some posthumous succor?"
    "Therefore, you waste your fees on costly whisky," she dropped with unbelievable perspicacity.
    "Whence do you know about these intimate details?"
    "You were so canned as to put the empty bottle at our door."
    "Drat!"
    "You'd come blotto, I think. I've carried it out, wino. Withal you conversed with yourself aloud, sometimes speaking out about someone's falls."
    "Oh no! It is swinishness to orate when you are sleeping."
    "Yes, my darling, comment is superfluous."
    "What is there to say? Then I must redeem the error of my splurging and appropriate the rest of savings on your European cruise."
    "I shall take much less than you give me, but thank you for generosity."
    By this bribe, the incident was settled, and our sexless family life took its ordinary course for the week preceding her flight to the Old World from the Newest one of ours-founded on the claims of the Old Testament as (isn't it laughable?) the safest place for Jews on the earth.
    In contrast to the family monkish celibacy, my resumed visits to Alice were entirely the flame of our avid passionateness; and if it were not for her menses, we might have expended all the accumulated desire ahead of time. Yet Nature interfered solicitously in our morbidly insatiable satisfying, so the promised two-week's honeymoon had commenced only three days after the departure of my first mate.
    Whether it was the recent touch of Doom that influenced my vitality so strongly, or, maybe, I had plenty of vigor and potency to spend with abandon due to the inescapable termination of my temporary liberation on the day of Ann's arrival (not because of any invidious comparison in lovemaking, but for the urgent preparations to my forthcoming staging), anyway, the pastime of my extremely-active idleness on this unforeseen furlough was possibly the happiest period in my mature years.
    I could hardly convey in words what a sensation I experienced during the weeks when all my petticoat government left me alone.
    (My two younger girls were with their "daddy" on holiday in the north of Israel, renting a log cabin of some tourist kibbutz among the pines of the coniferous forests of the sylvan foothills between the mountain range Carmel and the Kinneret, alias the Sea of Galilee; and then, they proposed to cross the country lengthwise by their car and splash about in the Red Sea in Eilat that they could return to Tel Aviv to meet our traveler.)
    Just imagine how splendid I felt in the summer city, being absolutely unoccupied, healthy, and robust for swimming by crawl like a speed-boat and by breast- or butterfly-stroke like a dolphin and going out of the lapping glitteringly-greenish waves as an athletic strapping playboy who lolled about on the beach by days, grilling in the sun in company with a snazzy young doll, and gratified his ardent baby by nights with rare ingenuity and inexhaustible sexual might.
    I was still live, and as yet nothing prevented me from enjoying myself in all available ways in the brief interim between the tragedies overtaken me and the brewing trouble of my future.
    It seemed to me that I got in some earthly paradise, such as that of the long vacation by the sea in my youth, when in my expenditure of energy in the daytime I again and again acquired new strength for my nocturnal feats.
    What else but worries are aging everyone? And how few inspiriting words (for instance, "You're simply sex-machine!") conduce to our enviable rejuvenation wonderfully reinvigorating a man's natural scepter, wilted and all but withered away in forcible chastity! (Pardon my raptures over bringing out the beast in man, but honestly, they are not causeless.)
    Of course, I should have described the gorgeous episode of my ravishing adultery consecutively, scene by scene, but all the gamut of our emotions beggared all description, while without the detailed depiction of the spectrum of our feelings little remained of love and happiness, and our exultantly-effulgent Garden of Eden might be read as a bawdy story of two fornicators and as an apotheosis of licentiousness and indecency. For that reason, I shall rather prefer to elide any reflecting of concrete deeds in the time of our short and rapacious passion.
    It is enough to say that our last intercourse dragged on till the midday, since the sea-bathing was excluded by us today for the farewell coition (provided that I would have used this obsolete vulgar word to name our welding together by flesh and soul in the hours of our happy obsession).
    "My apologies for shortness of adventure," I pleaded my staging in excuse of my leave in an odd moment. "But I am in duty bound."
    "There's nothing to do," remarked Alice. "As you know, my needs are few, and I'm quite satisfied with a pair of dates and innocent amusements."
    "What's about one more in future?" I asked. "I mean after my Hamlet."
    "That is, after three months?" she defined the term more precisely.
    "Yes, thereabouts."
    "I can't look ahead so far. You may get in touch with me then and learn what is what."
    "Okay, I'll call with your permission. However, for the present, I must make up leeway in idle talks," I said, embracing her, "to consummate felicity."
    "Maniac," she giggled contentedly, again moving her shapely legs apart.
    "Pro unanimously," I closed the colloquial part of our interaction.
    Sheen of love sweat covered the nude bronzed body of my dissolute babe lying supine, "sexhausted" for the last time, when I left her and went out onto the deserted narrow street where the sultry heat was at its height.
    I habitually made for the station, but unexpectedly, I changed my mind and turned to the left, off the road running across the mowed meadow of dry stubble, towards the eucalyptus grove, for I was not there till then and had a slim hope to be some day afterwards.
    A straight bystreet led me to a blind alley abutted on the latticed metal fence, beyond which the grove marshaled its grey ranks of eucalyptuses under the faded pale-green canopies of their drooping crowns.
    I climbed over the stone socle of a gap of the fence and came into the dappled shadow of the grove.
    The air of the shadowy area, sweltering and redolent of cough mixture, turned out to be no cooler than in the sun, and there was no breath of wind stirring the hanging long branches of the trees in the regularly planted thicket lined with drainage furrows into rows of the smooth trunks covered with whitish spots of bareness where their thin dry bark peeled off, having fallen on the dusty blanket of their shed shriveled lanceolate leaves rustling under foot.
    In the stifling heat of this kingdom of the death, among these crackling parchment foliage and stripped leprous trunks, my body suddenly seemed disemboweled and hollow as an empty shrunken wineskin, and for some reason, I thought what a direness of vegetation would be all the afflictions of old age, and what miserable consolation accrued to a poor male in abstaining from the original sin both before knowing a woman and after weaning him from sexual life on the pretext of spouse's senile infirmity (even if, thank God, I was still able to get round the difficulty of such a kind with such availability of yielding "fair ladies" everywhere).
    "Well, we'll see," I pronounced in the dead silence smothering all sounds around. "If I have animal desires, I am to comply with them. So be it."
    After that, I spat defiantly and bent my steps to the gap of the fence in order to catch the next train to Tel Aviv.
   
   
    ACT 3: "HAMLET"
   
    SCENE 8
   
    I wouldn't say that I abode in the absolute obtuseness of my intelligence in these two weeks of my sinful felicity.
    Quite the contrary, the conversations we would carry on between times, though scintillating with wit, usually revolved around literature (for example, how do you like our discussion in a post-beach café MacDonald's on such an academically-special topic as whether the language of Yochi Brandes' third novel, about the epoch of Rabbi Akiva, bears comparison with the artistry of the novels by Amos Oz, the great stylist that was already world-famous thanks to the translations of his prose from Hebrew), but I always refrained from touching on the theme of my treatment of Shakespeare's play for fear of wasting my idea of staging in words instead of realizing it on the stage.
    Because I was pressed for time in working out my adumbrated project and in devising new and new solutions of its episodes, I decided to plug my ears with a pair of big ear-phones protecting me against the din outside and the voices of my now and again reuniting family behind the closed steel door of my air-conditioned bunker, fitted out with the computer that I seldom turned off now, referring in the Internet to sites of various kind about all arising questions in all spheres interesting me.
    As to my conception, it issued in many aspects from the possibilities of the given theater having a sizeable troupe, financial resources, and therewithal some amount of the students of a local drama school, who could take part in productions as supporting actors and extras.
    So, I got down to my work foregoing the staging of every play as such, and this work consisted in creating a primary image of the future spectacle and in building a clear-cut structure of its action.
    As I saw it, the chief problem of Hamlet was lack of unexpectedness. It was difficult to find a spectator not knowing its plot in general outline, while I had been engaged as a stage-director to make a breathtaking show that the public could have watched with an absorbing interest, otherwise I'd have considered my task unfulfilled, for I was wont to meet my engagements.
    And in spite of my contrivance, the very play must have remained intact in the scheme of its events and in its text, only partly abridged here and there in accordance with its two short versions, likely meant for performing (there was a strict time-limit for performance in the Shakespearian theater), so as to confine my production to three hours of three acts at most.
    By now, I had a key to the tragedy that I construed as a furiously dynamic story of drawing a sufficiently young spiritual mind of Renaissance into the strife of two camps for mastery, where the true reality suddenly begins to reveal itself before him and impels him to act counter to his past attitude to the people of his life. He says, "I know not seems"; but as it turns out, all that he knows is always just "seeming".
    Although this understanding was banal enough, it suggested a vision of the whole acting space to me-as a wreathing obscurity of fluid clouds, out of which all personages and things appear as if by magic, and in which they vanish as if into thin air.
    Not that I wanted to take on the job of my set-designer, nevertheless, I expected him to create some frightening (at times formidable) atmosphere of suspenseful expectation when a sudden yawning of secret passage might open in every point of diverse levels within the smokily oscillating architecture of the castle. It was incumbent on him, with his imagination and technology, to transform the vast space of the stage into a changing intricate labyrinth of corridors, chambers, and open patches (of graveyard, of seashore, of rampart etc.), where Hamlet was condemned to stray by his birth, since as a prince, he was willy-nilly compelled to conduct himself in the way that contradicted his world-view as a scholar and a representative of his "new generation".
    Strictly speaking, the nub of the genuine conflict of the tragedy is just the collision of his character of a blithe amicable student with the unavoidable mission of revenge imposed on him by learning how his beloved father died in actuality.
    Without this learning, his fate would be another: having abnegated his rights and opted out of the dynastic feud, he would little by little reconcile himself to the accession of his uncle to power-instead of his own acceding to the throne-on the ground of the hasty marriage to his mother, and most likely take to wife Ophelia, the charming young daughter of Polonius, the present right arm of the king (not being of the blood royal, such a wife makes him a less legitimate pretender, eliminated from the roll of Claudius' real adversaries).
    And then, he would be killed by an assassin egged on by the crowned murderer, who will be clearing his kingdom of all the adherents of his poisoned brother with the purpose of exterminating the conspiring slanderers that might have plotted dethroning the impostor.
    The same murderous final is prepared for the queen, and beyond doubt, she is conscious of the brooding danger. She knows what a predator she has in the person of her convivial hubby-regicide, so her wedding soon after the unnatural death of her first spouse had been caused by her fear for her son, next in line to be eradicated by the self-appointed king.
    There were some questions in the play, the answers to which became the very important prompts to me in my analysis of the factual action of the classic and gave me some new comprehension of it.
    First of all, I itemized the events of Hamlet in a detailed list, shelling them from the flowery sonorous text, surplus in places for the present-day rhythm, and noticing the smallest particulars slipped the attention of my predecessors in their perusal of this poetical masterpiece.
    When I laid bare all the actions of all the characters, I marked those strange nuances of behavior and interrelations, which had a certain insufficiency of motivation and explanation.
    Then, as ever, I asked myself the constant questions, "Why and what for?" in every case-and the results were extraordinarily interesting.
    *
    Let's take, for instance, the figure of Horatio, Hamlet's highborn compeer, nobleman and warrior, who had been once sent along with the prince to the University of Wittenberg, thereafter fulfilling the functions of a bodyguard and an expert in the local student life there.
    The play opens with the episode, where some two officers going on sentry bring him to the platform before the castle to show him the apparition that has already been here twice by nights. Horatio has only just arrived from the university town, and the officers treat him with respect, as though they consider this "scholar" their old comrade-in-arm.
    In other words, he is a high-ranking grandee, entered His Majesty's service in the reign of the former king; that is why just he is called in secret to advance his judgment about such an eerie-weird phenomenon, for no one but the sentinels knows about the appearance of the ghost.
    It is essential that Horatio definitely identifies the specter strutting along the battlement as Hamlet's father by the armor the king wore when fighting a duel thirty years ago (according to the remark of the clown in the churchyard) and by a specific countenance of the elder Hamlet, though in his account of the spine-chilling sight at the night rampart to Hamlet Minor, Horatio speaks vaguely about "likeness", incidentally adding new and new signs of the unforgettable personality and leading the son to a necessary conclusion.
    I got an impression that Horatio absented himself from both the funeral of his king and the second wedding of the queen and returned to Elsinore only two months later, on the occasion of the dubiously lawful coronation of the newly minted autocrat, because he had some information about the circumstances of the previous ruler's death. The reason of his arrival is, of course, his concern for the prince being held in the castle by his uncle with the object of his undoubted subsequent liquidation.
    It follows from this that Horatio is rather Hamlet's preceptor from adolescence than his coeval, and their friendship is probably founded on training Hamlet in fencing (the prince is the best fencer of Denmark, judging by his fight with Laertes) and on the primary teaching of the future student (who is getting on for thirty now), for Horatio remembers his father's single combat, which took place in the year of his birth.
    Thus, Horatio is in fact an experienced fighter and scholar versed in all the then sciences, who prepares Hamlet for the role of an ideal monarch by order of the perfect king killed by the perfidious sibling.
    As an important person at the royal court and one of the lords, Horatio permits himself to ignore the marriage and enthronement of the present sovereign, and his status endows him with the right of advising the queen to speak with Ophelia gone mad ("...for she may strew/ Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds", he comments sapiently on his advice). Even the king addresses him as if begging a favor after the violent scene in the grave of Ophelia between her brother and her former admirer bereft of reason, too: "I pray you, good Horatio, wait upon him", meaning his habit of accompanying Hamlet.
    Therefore, by the by, Horatio wants to commit suicide when it becomes clear that his charge, His Royal Highness, will die presently, and his life's work will come to nothing, considering what a specimen must replace Claudius on the throne, suddenly fallen into the clutches of a foreign desperado and fire-eater.
    So, the master of the prince returns to help the ousted heir to the throne, who would be the brilliant successor of his father; and henceforth, Horatio always remains hereabouts, providing protection to Hamlet against the imminent danger that grows absolutely real after the coronation untying the king's hands.
    Mark you, the public of the Globe Theater could understand who was who without any list of dramatis personae, non-existent in the original exemplar of Shakespeare's tragedy, from the text of the play containing all the needful characteristics defining them and by the constant amplua of every actor of the troupe.
    In particular, Horatio is not a Danish national, as well as officers Marcellus and Bernardo, but they are "friends to this ground" and "liegemen to the Dane". Horatio is, in fine, a free feudal vassal subject to his suzerain, and he serves the kingdom with his own officers. He had been appointed Hamlet's educator in the medieval learning and in the art of war by the late king when the prince was seven, and the king's jester Yorick minding the child was gathered to his forefathers. If the performer of this part was of a type of good valiant knight and noble gallant lord, the theater could make do without any explanation.
    And in the course of my spectacle, Horatio's men attend to Hamlet all the time, now watching from behind the big wall carpets partitioning all the palace apartments (such was a find of the set-designer, showed me by him via Skype: these moving and stirring painted widths allowing the actors to arise as if from nowhere and disappear all of a sudden) now coming forward out of the dusky pictures of tapestries, on whose background they motionless are practically invisible among the other colored figures.
    Reverting to my question of the task of this allegedly auxiliary character, I couldn't help but draw the obvious inference that Horatio, acting in Hamlet's interests, purposes to dethrone the regal fratricide.
    Yet, his arrival is strangely timely, and it too appositely coincides with the two preceding advents of the ghost that look like some reaction of the martyr's soul awaking to the blaring of the triumphal trumpets and fanfares of the crowning to rise from Hell on the eve of the war engendered by his remote victory in the aforementioned single combat.
    Who did notify Horatio beforehand of the desirability of his presence in the castle, and who did know of the ghost before its appearance at all?
    There is only one who may know of it and do it, and it is the queen, Hamlet's mother. As it appears from my reading, she is in stalemate and has to invoke the spirit of her defunct husband to induce her son to act for the sake of his own saving.
    Whence do I conclude that just she is the first cause of the action?
    Look at the situation ere the ghost opens Hamlet's eyes to poisoning the king-father.
    Hamlet is irritated with the ruse of his uncle, seized power by means of the marriage to the queen. He sees through Claudius supporting his usurpation by the motive of his care of the common weal in the conditions of the war threat (the very war, I want to remind, is the consequence of the shady death of king Hamlet and of the doubtfulness of the rights assigned to the one who has succeeded to the crown grabbed by him). Yet the prince does not take any step towards restoration of the heir's rights, in essence resigning all claims to the throne and relinquishing the power to his uncle in order to seek shelter from injustice in the library and refectory of his university and at the pulpits of academic disputes.
    Meanwhile, his mother and Horatio have no illusions about Claudius' plans to dispatch the son, just as he had finished off the father. The coronation is a watershed, after which nothing keeps the poisoner from bumping off his real rival for patrimonial power and presumptive avenger for the dead daddy.
    As long as the noble prince is unaware of the danger, he may fall an easy prey to someone's insidiousness, so his defenders must let him know how matters stand in the true light. But whom would he believe, and who would be able to persuade him for certain? Nobody if not his father personally.
    In the time of Queen Elizabeth, the folk, believing sincerely in existence of spirits, apparitions, and demons, was convinced of verisimilitude of some special books of lore and witchcraft instructing how to invoke the ghosts of lost souls to such an extent that this forbidden knowledge would be used in the ungodly rites punishable by burning at the stake. Such a ghost was quite acceptable then as a prime mover of the plot; therefore, after some hesitation, I came to decision not to bring the play to earth and investigated this theme, which enabled me to excogitate my unique grand final of the tragedy.
    My attention was drawn by two points in the episodes interweaving reality with supernatural forces: the incorporeal being excruciated by the demons of Hell forbids Hamlet to punish his mother-as though the ghost understands that her matrimony is her way of defense of their son; plus the queen asserts she is blind and deaf to the spirit speaking to Hamlet, whereas all the others can see and hear it.
    In short, it looks as if Gertrude knew the whys and wherefores of it; and this conjecture has given rise to the absolutely unpredictable prologue.
    In the autumn twilight, the dark bulk of the towering ancient castle looms in the rainy space of the portal, and the lurid greenish glow is flashing on an off in the embrasure of the tiny lancet window of its turret to the accompaniment of the strangely-sinister music, whose plangent leitmotif will be accompanying every entrance of the wandering soul.
    In parallel, we hear the clatter of the hoofs of a galloping horse approaching the castle. At last, the mount stops, and the intermittent short blaze of torches begins to trace the way of a dismounted rider hurrying upstairs to the closet of the turret through the swaying wall carpets and tapestries.
    Then the flap wall with the window rolls up like a curtain and opens a small laboratory of alchemist, where the public discovers the queen standing before a huge cauldron boiling on fire, its greenish luminescent smoke enveloping both her pale face and an antique reading desk weighted with an open big folio. This very instant enters Horatio: he genuflects and takes the edge of her train to kiss it.
    Having cast a cursory glance at him, the queen gives his hand a friendly squeeze and turns to refer to the folio and throw the last wisp of some herb into the cauldron.
    The music suddenly explodes with the deafening rumble of the increasing earthquake splitting the trembling turret, and at its pitch, the cauldron ejects a fiery cloud of the erupting hell, through the ruptured vault of which, out of the infernal regions, rises a spectral dark figure clad in a suite of armor.
    The queen, lifting up her hands in awe of the uncanny wraith, goes down on her knees before this knight ascending from the fire-spitting abyss in the blossoming of the tongues of flame licking his glistening black armor.
    Then the shade from Tartarus raises its bent right arm with the open palm of a gauntlet in a gesture of swearing oath and slowly pulls the close visor of its helm up.
    An abrupt blackout and dead silence, and some seconds later, the platform of sentinel emerges from darkness down stage.
    What strikes Horatio in the scene of the unnerving appearance of the redoubtable creature at the rampart is the face of the killed king under the raised beaver and the ghost's demeanor insistently demanding some deeds from him and his officers by its silent returns.
    Horatio knows, however, what is its purpose in coming-to urge the son-prince to come out of his shell in the reality, where he faces certain death, and to take his fate in his own hands, including his retribution to the chief evildoer.
    Those who consider Horatio a "fellow-student", as Hamlet addresses him in the episode of their meeting, overlook the ironical character of their intercourse, habitual between an old alumnus and a current student of the same university, especially if the older scholar is the instructor of the younger one during many years in all skills of student life, such as wielding a foil or conducting a feast among other things. Hamlet's promise to teach Horatio to drink deep ere he departs issues just from these relations, and all this is Hamlet's reaction to Horatio's quibbling expression in reply to "What make you from Wittenberg?": "Truant disposition", with use of reference to "truancy", though his confidant is "no truant" and hasn't a habit of dawdling away his time like a gadabout.
    Read anew how the prince appreciates his boon companion in all seriousness in his monologue "Nay, do not think I flatter" before the performance undertaken for coming to a definitive decision of revenge, and you will make sure who is Horatio actually in spite of the century-old tradition of representing him as a needless featureless person dubbed "Friend to Hamlet", according to the list of dramatis personae added afterwards.
    He is indeed the truest friend to Hamlet, and they are pally for years; nonetheless, it is undoubtedly another kind of friendship than that of chaps of the same age, such as between Hamlet and his two real mates in Elsinore.
    Thus, I received the answer to my catch question, "Why cannot the king kill Hamlet on the spot and vice versa?" which had endowed me with some new vision, entailed the solutions of the whole staging and its separate scenes.
    Few directors attach much importance to the fact that Hamlet's monologue "To be or not to be" is his first idle moment after the night when he was staggered by the horrible revelation of the armed spirit of his father; meanwhile, the audience may imagine what state of his mind he has reached-owing to the narrations of some witnesses about his madness and to his own insolent gibes in the intermediate episodes. Such a state is by no means reflection, all the more because he has already prepared a trap for the king in the show of the strolling troupe, so his monologue is not in the least meditation, albeit thinking. The riddle of this confession is that it has no immediate impulse or planning any concrete action to be, as all the other monologues of the tragedy have.
    Therefore, it is easy to understand why the princes of many productions are pacing hither and thither in absentminded pensiveness and endeavoring in vain to impart philosophical profundity to their abstract discourses acquiring little cogency if in their cogitation they assume an air of either musing melancholia or slashing righteousness.
    The crux of the matter is hidden in the circumstances of delivering this speech full of rhetorical questions and irremovable declamatory tone. Perhaps for recitation the monologue has the advantage that the actor can perform it without partners and beyond the action of any plot, but I am absolutely intolerant of interpolating such "poetical evenings" in my staging, and I should invent a situation making the declamation some lively action at any cost.
    First of all, it would behoove me to include the given speechifying in one process of the mental metamorphosis of the prince under influence of the terrible truth announced by the ghastly specter-bearing the resemblance to his dead father and wearing the familiar panoply, but being, maybe, a delusive guise of Satan beguiling him into committing the murder of his hated uncle out of revenge; and just possibility of perdition necessitates organizing a theatrical test for the wily hypocrite.
    That is why Hamlet speaks this text not to weigh in his mind whether is life worth living or not, but to explain-still without explanation of reason-that his behavior is caused by his sudden loss of any desire to live. And the only one who knows about the very fact of his meeting with the ghost demolished all his former more or less optimistic attitude to life (bitterly exposed to mockery in his unmasking conversation with his two chums-traitors), and to whom he can pour out his heart, is Horatio that accompanies him in this episode of sauntering up and down the empty hall. By the way, Hamlet continually speaks his mind on various subjects to Horatio, for he is evidently accustomed to share all his secrets with his experienced noble friend.
    And indeed, the precautionary measures are not superfluous.
    Granted, I'm right, and in the present case, Hamlet tries to bare his heart, vindicating his inactivity before Horatio expecting his resolution in the struggle for the seized throne.
    Note that the staunch follower of the valiant generous ruler places all his hopes only on the prince, and he is not disposed to draw on the help of the common people nor to resort to the force of mutiny and riot, since he bewares of disturbances and civil war, in contradistinction to Laertes; at the same time, with all his titles and the reverence for him in the suite, Horatio can rely no more than on several congeners-officers making up the camp of Hamlet's supporters, but serving the Danish crown as before.
    While soliloquizing the prince leaves his listener standing not far off, and the king, who has sneaked up behind the hanging carpets to spy on the nephew shamming insanity, misinterprets his solitude on the proscenium as absence of witnesses.
    When the king sees Hamlet without guard, he seizes the unrivalled opportunity to catch the prince defenseless and makes a sign.
    Two armed blackguards of his constant retinue slip from behind the carpets and, drawing their daggers, go forward at stealthy tread towards Hamlet continuing his explanation.
    Yet the assassins failed to take the prince unawares, as Horatio makes a sign, too, and two officers, Marcellus and Bernardo, appear from two sides and bar the way, their right hands laid on the hilts of their swords. Knowing how these warriors wield cold steel, the hesitant king's men do not unsheathe their blades and retreat. On the whole, the mute confrontation looks like a chance meeting of two pairs strolling in the hall.
    Suspecting nothing, Hamlet ends his monologue at the approach of Ophelia, and at the wave of his hand, Horatio withdraws, but not too far; in the meantime, Polonius also joins the king's team behind the wall widths.
    In the same way, two camps are colliding in the scene of the performance of the itinerant actors, when, in its end, the king, having realized what a trap Hamlet set for him in the play showing his own crime, leaps to his feet in a fury and, choking with anger, points a finger at the prince. His henchmen, obedient to his order, rush to Hamlet, while the officers again stand in the attackers' way, instantly damping the king's frenzy and compelling him to beat a retreat.
    Until now, the king has been exercising self-control, but by the spectacle, Hamlet manages to let him understand that his murder is brought to light, which is tantamount to a declaration of war.
    Facing the necessity to commit an assassination of the avenger earlier than he himself will be overtaken by the retaliation for his crime, the king is forced to hasten, and in his prayer, he in effect probes the depth of his wickedness before two inevitable murders of the rest of his brother's family in the near future. He cannot permit his first felony to receive publicity, and the fear of exposure impels him to stop at nothing, though Hamlet mistakes his kneeling in prayer for purging himself of his sins when the king is thinking over his new villainies.
    *
    Now both of them are ready to kill one another, waylaying the foe; and so Hamlet, being sure that it is just the king who hides behind the tapestry in the bedchamber of the queen, thrusts his sword into the invisible body without the slightest hesitation.
    As there is a prohibition for the guard to come in these rooms without an invitation, Horatio does not escort the prince to the bed of his mother (don't forget that Hamlet is a hard nut to crack in fight face to face), for indeed, what may threaten his charge in the boudoir of the true initiator of the conspiracy against the crowned fratricide, whose intentions do not constitute a mystery for the prudent queen grasping the inexorable logic of the steps of her lover-enemy.
    Howbeit, the mother cannot uncover her game to her son, taking into account her own danger if she arouses any mistrust of the king or any estrangement of this bloody bastard, whom she keeps under her observation.
    Analyzing the play, I hit on a bright idea to explore the hidden motives of Gertrude's conduct, and my searching enquiry had led me to the conclusion that her efforts to save her son in his desperate plight are the actual mainspring of her deeds, because he ought to slay the murderer of his father for his own life's sake, being unable to instigate some faithful officers sympathizing with the old king's son to a coup d'état and incapable of intriguing against his uncle for winning new accomplices over to his side.
    After the performance that betrays the prince and enrages the king entirely given away by his spontaneous malice, the situation becomes critical and fraught with Hamlet's rash attempt on Claudius' life, which would provoke the king's immediate order to kill the mad nephew on the plea of self-defense; it's not surprising that the queen does her uttermost to bring her raging investigator to his senses.
    To her great regret, having gotten the confirmation of the ghost's accusation, Hamlet is violently incensed both at the unpunished cherished snake and at the mother-abettor; meantime the spy, concealed himself nearby, makes a mental note of every remark. To dam up the spate of Hamlet's words professing his target is not within his mother's power, so she stops him with the cries of her feigned fright meaning for the hearer who eavesdrops behind the carpet-to push Polonius to disclose his presence.
    By their screams, the suicidal confession is broken, but the reaction of the excellent fencer proves excessively resolute, and his first homicide really unhinges his mind, whereupon he is fulminating against his infidel vicious mother and lashing the lustful traitress openly and without mercy.
    As you see, scarcely bearing the burden of his knowledge of the whole truth and nearly breaking under the wreckage of his collapsing past, the indomitable castigator is balancing on the brink of derangement, while his sinful mummy cannot pacify the rebellion of his soul by any arguments until her dead spouse, comprehending the reasons of her behavior, goes in person to her aid.
    Why do you think the spirit is screening her, interceding on her behalf before their son, and why is she the only one of all who does not see the ghost? How her words may be taken on trust if Hamlet's information about the ghastly crime does not astonish her very much nor paralyze her with horror.
    This is not to be wondered at if we shall be incredulous about her ignorance of the killing of her king and-allowing the jealous accuser to be gushing over her libido in his tirades making the welkin ring-concentrate our attention on Gertrude's lines.
    Her phrase, "Alas, he's mad!" is merely an exclamation dropping in the void, unless she pronounces it to somebody, namely to her child's father, who takes cognizance of the relative lunacy of the hot-blooded heir when exhorting him.
    Just the scene in the bedchamber demonstrates the connection between the ghost and the queen acting concertedly as a united family in the crucial phase of its further existence.
    If so, aren't the Freudian admonitions of the presumptuous sonny ridiculous to the self-sacrificing intrepid mother sleeping with her future killer for saving her kin? Who else can sound out the intentions of the base villain, and how else can she struggle for her kid's life?
    It is no accident that the ghost comes to her, gotten into such a fix, and that she is glad to hear from her pernickety humanist what he has contrived to blast the king's plans of sending him to certain death to England under surveillance of his two good friends. (Anyway, he must kill for his own survival, whichever ideas he has imbibed in his university.)
    Hence, it is quite understandable why she pretends to be unconscious of the ghost's presence: pleading insensibility to the spirit of her renowned hero professedly imperceptible to her eye, she dodges a question of her duplicity as a widow.
    If she is not an exception to a rule, then she would have to acknowledge that she had once guessed who was guilty of her husband's unnatural death, which implies that she had married this culprit deliberately, keeping her head and being spurred rather by her instinct of self-preservation than by her indecent prurience.
    Her son-idealist is lenient towards her belated passion, but he will not forgive her sober prostitution in couple with the mean murderer of his father; and she will never explain her conduct away nor prevail on him to recognize the severe necessity of this cruelly rough real life to balk at nothing sometimes. (Parenthetically, I'd lay emphasis on this incompatibility of their attitudes, as it is the very root of the spiritual conflict between Hamlet and his milieu.)
    *
    It is time to go over to my grand final issuing from the subtly treated theme of the ghost considered in all its bearings-to conclude this theme in a sublime apotheosis of the uniting of the ideal Royal Family destroyed by a vile envier.
    Omitting the approaches to the culmination in the episode of the fencing bout, I shall begin with the moment the queen, sensing the pangs of the acting deadly poison, hurries to say at last to her son that she has been knowing of Claudius' guiltiness all the time from the day of their family catastrophe, but after her "I am poison'd", she dies, leaving her phrase without its logical end "by the king, just as your father", and it is Laertes who says, "The king, the king's to blame".
    The king jumps up from the throne and flings his dead wife aside from the dais of the supreme power, as though vacating the second seat if such an opportunity offers a bit earlier than he has planned. After that, he waves his men on-to do away with the mortally wounded prince ready for anything.
    The same commanding gesture of Horatio follows forthwith.
    The militants of reinforcement immediately bounce out from behind the wall carpets, and the space of the hall becomes the arena of a furious fight between two bellicose camps.
    With his skillfully slaying sword, Horatio hews the way frenziedly before his weakening poisoned friend through the row of the Switzers-bodyguards defending the dais; then, at one stroke, he knocks out the sword from the hands of the scared king that plumps down back into the chair, the blade of Horatio's sword put to his fat throat.
    And Hamlet, mounting the throne after all, steps to the king and smites his heartless uncle with the poisoned rapier in the breast with all his might.
    The king, transfixed with the steel sting and pinned with the blade to the back of the throne, tries to call for help, but Hamlet pours the wine that has killed the queen into his open mouth-to retaliate the poisoner "measure for measure".
    As soon as Claudius breathes his last, Horatio blows the clarion, and the fighters seeing the dead body of the monarch break their battle and disperse about the castle to stanch the blood of their gashes and dress their wounds.
    Accordingly, by the appearance of Fortinbras, there remains only the survived and the corpses of the killed lying here and there on the floor of the hall.
    Fortinbras, establishing order as next king of Denmark, pulls the rapier out of the breast of the dead impostor and spurns the limp body with his soldier's high-boot from the scarlet carpet of the dais, incidentally ordering to bury the Prince of Denmark with military honors.
    Horatio, genuflecting before the dead prince, lays the sword in his crossed hands on the body of the ruined hope of the country, and it seems that the play has come to an end.
    But here, overlapping the march rhythm of mournful music and gradually overpowering it, there comes a high angelic voice of counter-tenor from the famous opera The Tempest by Henry Purcell.
    In the falling darkness, the whole building of the castle, overfilling with shining, suddenly emits the white radiance through many slits between the wall carpets; and then, one by one, all the dark widths go furled up like scrolls, opening what is behind them.
    In the brilliance of heavenly light, the lofty dragon-like prow of a white shallop of Vikings rises, emerging from the opaque waters of the Lethe, above the ruins of the dream of an ideal monarchy, and the familiar armed figure is standing in the shallop, but the panoply of the father-king is white, and his face wearing a serene look radiates happiness, for he put his right arm round the waist of his happily beaming queen, while his left hand is laid on the shoulder of a merry amiable boy, his promising son-his infant prodigy-his Hamlet, obtained the Paradise of the parental love in the kingdom of heaven.
    The orotund, enchantingly divine voice is soaring heavenward, and all the happy holy family, enveloped in the luminous mist of blissful oblivion, is slowly sliding backwards in their icy northern war-shallop sailing away into the frosty shining upstage.
    And this everlasting sailing of their snow-white vessel into the dazzling glory of salvation seems to be pulling two parts of the curtain together from the wings till them close, screening the effulgence of the final redemption crowning the story about the collision of the ideal man of the Renaissance with real evil.
    Now, I could set to the staging of this great tragedy, whatever surprises my future work might have in store for me.
   
    SCENE 9
   
    This time, I was to deal with a big solid theater in a regional center of one and half million population, where the very building of the academic cultural institution-a cyclopean concrete box of architectural constructivism in the shape of an attacking caterpillar tractor of the soviet thirties with its beetling cabin-foyer overlooking a vast square spread before it-required some adequate grand style and scale of the staging in order to use the empty space of the huge stage more or less productively.
    The budget for the production was allocated without pettiness, and there were also some munificent local backers sponsoring the project for prestige-to strike the capital cities with brilliance, finery, and luxuriance in all elements of the future show. That superbly answered my vision of the classic tragedy as a noisy and variegated Renaissance festivity, pretty sinister in its underhand methods, amid the rejoicing of which the "solemn black" velvet and "inky cloak" of Hamlet's mourning looked absolutely incongruous.
    The reason of bounteousness was very simple: the head of the theater, taken the part of King Claudius, combined the posts of chief director and art leader, including his own staging of plays. His versatility slightly complicated my work with him, yet as an actor, he could vie with many less ambitious and self-confident colleagues, so I must only have set new unexpectedly-difficult tasks to his professional stagecraft, provoking him to display it in full measure, with all his mighty temperament, cunning, and subtlety, strange in such a hefty and sound official.
    That was not the first role I did with Nicholas, and I knew his artistic nature well enough since he played Tybalt in my Romeo and Juliet as a talented young actor, showing his fencing mastery and being irreproachably convincing in his fury on the stage.
    Just because I was acquainted with this caviler, I had warned him in advance about my view on his king, who had been living in the same family castle together with his regal brother and the queen and watching their happy life during thirty years at least, but did not have his own wife and children.
    Why he was such? What life could he lead all that time if he obviously was neither warrior nor diplomat? To judge from his habit to ingratiate himself with everybody, he possesses no qualities of a real ruler; therefore, he chooses Polonius as his right hand (not very wise, but very obsequious), and they represent a pair of false authority in comparison with a pair of true monarch and chancellor in the persons of Hamlet and Horatio.
    Claudius is not endowed with any talent or prowess, and he is a coward at heart. Since the author portrays him as a sanguine jovial raver and lover of wassails and revelry, he, without doubt, ever indulged in all the joys of life, such as drinking-bouts, hunting, and womanizing, preferring to remain an idling bachelor till his forty odd, without the experience of his brother and without the education of his nephew. He is in essence a typical good-for-nothing fast liver companionable with all people; and apparently, it is impossible not to take a liking to this nice chap-to this light-hearted loafer ranting with a goblet in his hand that enjoys his freedom from care so innocuously and has such a zest for life.
    I considered it necessary and especially important to stress his charm of manner and the purely positive impression Claudius should have always made on the audience, because the evil done by him had its roots not in his villainous nature (as, for instance, in Iago's case), but in the sphere of thoughts and ideas engendered by his age and by his realization of some gaping senselessness of his ending wasted life. Otherwise he would have killed his first-born brother and the model of masculinity for him in his youth, and, by the same token, woe would have betided the queen far earlier than in her fifties when she passed in his possession, were he really in love with her.
    He does not hate his brother-king nor his nephew-wiseacre, who is at most twelve-thirteen years younger than he is, and who seldom chaffs him, still scarcely respecting such an aging pleasure-seeker frittering his time away; but by rights, is the nature just towards him if all its gifts are distributed so unfairly? Why the deuce the first-born receives both natural abilities and privileges of birth, whereas he lacks all of it? And what, say, may prevent him from amending the unjust distribution before it's too late?
    Here Shakespeare notices a paradox of a good character devoid of inner taboos. As a real man of Renaissance, Claudius, having murdered his elder brother, cannot dig out even a hint of repentance in his soul; instead of feeling compunctious, he concludes cold-bloodedly that in view of his intent to delight in results of his crime he should take all following steps prejudging the fates of Hamlet, Gertrude, and the rest in his list. Nothing private, my friends, such is life!
    Naturally, my conception of the role nipped in the bud Nicolas' plans to impersonate the king as a perfidious spiteful malefactor, and he instantly twigged what advantage for his artistic success my approach had over his trite baddie.
    Imagine how many possibilities his monologue before the crucifix gives him in that case. His Claudius is going to get forgiveness of sins from the Lord, and suddenly, it dawns on him that he will be saying his prayer in vain, inasmuch as he has no wish to abdicate the throne and cease tasting the fruits of overstepping his former prohibition. Consequently, he is entitled to ignore his God for the time being, continuing to act in accordance with his own interests, as his conscience is not a whit disturbed by his felony, and he is cheerful as before. Or rather, he is still merrier than previous to that, for he has begun at last to play his own game, which is setting him new and new goals and inspiring him to struggle-after the preceding empty decades of his aimlessness. Contrary to expectations, his grisly crime has enlivened his spirit and filled his heart with new desires, while our good-natured monster so loves to live for his own pleasure.
    Besides, there was a critical juncture in the tragedy, always being omitted by stage-directors, yet demanding an intelligible explanation for their faithful interpretation of the future action. Why could Claudius succeed in talking the queen into marrying him in some few days between the king's death and the prince's arrival from the university, and how might such a thing happen to Hamlet's fifty-year-old mother depriving her son of his crown by her deed?
    This point was so important that I had offered Nicholas and my Gertrude to play an etude impromptu on this subject, notwithstanding that I rarely applied method of etudes to my productions, as I had made certain long ago of its ineffectiveness because of the attitude of actors counting it some student exercises.
    Apart from anything else, that kind of rehearsal in the narrow circle of a pair of performers gave me an additional opportunity to analyze both the parts in details for arousing the artistic efficacious keen interest in newness of my treatment of these two central characters.
    It is known from Hamlet's words that the marriage had been celebrated a month after the king's funeral. Then the second husband of the queen, pending the end of the period of official mourning when all fetes were discontinued, began an endless feast-day lasting till the coronation; however, the bargain was concluded, of course, before the funeral and Hamlet's return home. It is quite logical, as well, to assume that the queen was hitherto on friendly terms with the impish slacker-boozer-womanizer amusing her in hours of busyness of her serious and stern husband, who kept his not growing-up brother out of mischief and was a father to the irresponsible naughty child.
    Properly speaking, Claudius regards the very murder as mischief and as one of his pranks: with his boyish infantilism, he plays a dirty trick on his mentor-to take the place of his noble heroic brother and try all that constitutes the king's life. What has turned out a catastrophe for Gertrude is an adventure for Claudius, who is playing a new role in each situation of the action and taking pleasure in his play. Forsooth, he is elated at his success, and he can't help rejoicing in his adroitness in any exigency and in his cleverness to extricate himself from any inextricable predicament.
    But at first, he must cope with his immediate task after the dreadful sudden death of the king, or else he may remain empty-handed; and to do him justice, his scheme seems absolutely impracticable in five-six days he has for it.
    It would be very simple to say he had seduced the queen if she were obsessed with irrepressible lust for him prior to their present alliance. But what to do then with her passionate love towards Hamlet's father, and why on earth she had been hiding her desire till her fifty? Was she curbing her secret passion and temporizing in anticipation of her liberation? Or perhaps the queen became so morbidly inflamed with a sudden lech for Claudius that she had no moral strength to resist the new temptation even for some time?
    And the chief thing is not her sinful lustfulness, but her decision to marry, for she hereby hands her second hubby the crown of her son. What could induce her to act so indecently and disgrace her name with her haste making her a butt for ridicule?-such a question I had put to my king and queen after I could jerk our incessantly busy leader out of his private office to the lesser rehearsal room, and three of us got down to solving this enigma in the etude.
    "Look, Nicholas," I prefaced our simulating the situation by exposing the essence of his part to the famous National Artist. "Your Claudius never had any profession and experience in any service, and in all fairness, he is only a lifelong onlooker. Therefore, he imitates his brother's conduct as a king and unintentionally parodies the majesty and imperiousness of the true monarch, for he is like his elder brother in his powerful build and stentorian voice, but by nature, he is a light-minded bon vivant and hedonist leading life of pleasure."
    "I took your thought," Nicholas seized the point in a moment. "He is an adolescent insensitive to the suffering and pain he inflicts. He is pitiless because people are a kind of playthings for him."
    "Yes. And although he understands that it is hardly feasible to entice the virtuous widow from her duty before her deceased beloved husband while the dead body is not yet committed to the earth, he knows how he can succeed in his attempt. Why?"
    "Why?" asked my actor-quick on the uptake, but reasonably leaving the search of answers to the chief thinker of the production.
    "He's a philanderer, so what he is versed in are women's weak points. How old are you, mummy, if you have thirty-year-old son? About fifty, right? What awaits you as a queen dowager after the accession of your son to the throne?"
    "She will be an old hag without her former status and any sexual life," my Claudius disconcerted his prey without equivocation and with astuteness characteristic of him. "And I am the one who is able to help her to prolong her full-blooded life as a queen and as a woman."
    "But you should act very circumspectly. It must look as if the idea of offering your hand sprang when you consoled your poor sister-in-law weeping bitter tears. You are indeed her good friend, and nevertheless, such a wolf may suddenly go astray out of the fullness of the heart and begin to alleviate the widow's grief with abandon in his habitual way."
    "Let me continue," our amoral sensualist joined in the game.
    "I am so much condoling with you, Gertrude, in your great bereavement," he embraced the queen grieving for the elder Hamlet. "Apparently, such is God's will, and what can we do there. You still aren't old after all, and your life has not ended."
    "It's ended, ended!" exclaimed the queen. "I am alone now, I am so alone!"
    "No, no, my beauty, you aren't alone, whatever befalls you. I am always with you, and you can trust me," he assured her gently. "You know my attitude to you, don't you?"
    Here this rascal strokes her shoulder caressingly, and suddenly, he gives her a kiss on her neck, as though he were transported with sympathy.
    "Stop a moment!" I held the horses (figuratively speaking, a Percheron and a circus Andalusian mare). "Fix this! His kiss scares her, and she gets alarmed. He was courteous till now, while she never had any love except with her spouse."
    "I see," remarked my middle-aged actress, already somewhat portly in her well-proportioned figure and slightly flabby in the regular features of her beautiful face. "His behavior is very strange in such a situation, since he by no means is afire with passion to her in her age. Hence, she thinks, he undoubtedly pursues some goal. Then what is his purpose?"
    "To comfort you, my queen, and derive my own profit from the situation at the same time," confessed our reprobate seducer. "May I show compassion to you?"
    "Yes, it is quite natural. What about your profit?"
    "Well, I can produce explanation. First of all, I am a man, in whose power is to save you from turning into a hopeless unhappy granny."
    "Good move, chappie. I simply sense how I'm getting a wretched crone. What do you offer?"
    "My help to you to remain queen of Denmark. Not to mention the continuation of your life in bed."
    "It's a strong argument. I should rather think it over."
    "As to your son, he will be a crown prince as before. He still has enough time to wait for his turn, whereas we have no right to miss an opportunity to live life to the full. Believe me, my queen, I shall be the best comforter to you and do my utmost to be a match for you as a king."
    "Who is so steadfast in love-to resist his suasion?" the bereaved wife sighed. "However, the story seems very suspicious to me. I got an impression that he is not in the least grieved with his brother's death and even prepared to this unexpectedness."
    "Precisely," I backed up her observation. "And if it is so, you should be wary of him and conceal your suspicion. If he is privy to the death of your husband, he may be a killer; then he will have to dispose of you and your sonny for attaining his ends. The chief thing in his blather is that he has conceived a desire to become the next king instead of the prince. Now she understands what choice she has actually."
    "With the proviso that I'll take no denial," the future tyrant warned.
    "By that time, his good offices to many of Elsinore's inhabitants has paved the way for recognizing him as a lawful monarch owing to the general affection he won preparatory to destroying his austere predecessor," I added the information to ponder over. "Meanwhile, you have only some vague suppositions about his guiltiness, and you won't gain any supporters in your unsubstantiated accusation."
    "I shall be plain with you, my goddess," the dexterous adventurer promised. "I'll easily find means to remove any insignificant hindrance. Contagion from the dead spouse, for example. Such a fatal illness. Then a stroke of genius more-and some misfortune overtakes the innocent scion. Probably, a terrible destiny hung over the family of my dear brother."
    "So I'm in a tough spot and ought to decide," the restive queen summarized his intimidation. "But, maybe, can I share my secret thoughts with my son?"
    "By that, you'll hasten his destruction," I distressed her. "The prince is too honest for intriguing against the king. He will call the suspect to account and reveal his knowledge of Claudius' proposed involvement in the shady accident of the deadly illness of his father.
    "Without weighty proofs, Hamlet will be counted a slanderer. Besides, why must he take your conjectures on trust? He may suspect his mother of calumny caused, say, with animosity against the complacent voluptuary irritating her as every widow getting on in years; or she libels with the object of revenging for some offence.
    "He was absent for a long time in the court, and he is alien to the life of the generation of his parents. That's why he will be distrustful, especially as this mediocre playboy rates very low in his esteem. From his point of view, Claudius is the most unsuitable figure for the role of a fratricide for the sake of power, seeing that his uncle never had any bent to occupy himself with matters of State."
    "In short, should she refuse my proposal or hint at my crime to the arrived son, she will expose him and herself to danger," deduced Nicholas. "She has no choice but to consent. My reckoning was exceptionally accurate."
    "Yes, your dreams came true: you seized all the property of your brother, including the queen, whose belated sensuality you are playing with. Soon after your nuptials, she is already addicted to the continual befuddlement of feasts and lust, because you are proficient at relegating virtuous women to whores. Yet, in fear of inevitable liquidation of her son after the coronation of her mate if the murder was indeed committed, she tries from time to time to establish contact with the spirit of her dead husband with the help of the lore of witchery and conjurations.
    "On the eve of the enthronement entailing the war, sprung from the victory of Hamlet's father thirty years ago, her ghost rises at last from Hell. As it follows from Horatio's narration about the ghosts rising from their graves on the eve of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Dane is roused not only by her invocations but also by his own responsibility for his country. From this, it follows that the Ghost has been invoked from the underworld, and he is not a simple lost soul, which would have been wandering about in the castle since the moment of the death.
    "Anyway, he opens the truth to her, and henceforth, she begins to act in conjunction with him. She sends for Horatio, while the king-ghost appears before his two faithful officers by nights-to prepare his meeting with Hamlet."
    "This production promises to be a smasher," the local theatrical chieftain hemmed contentedly. "There's a sense in spending on your novelty."
    *
    I make no secret of my maximum exploitation of the seriousness of investing in my Hamlet.
    Apart from the staging as such, there were some items of my direction relating to the demeanor of all the participants in the sumptuous decor of the halls and chambers furnished in the luxurious style of rococo, which came to light within the wavering mass of the enormous castle on furling up its colorful wall carpets and tapestries. The rich splendor of Renaissance costumes, equipped with corset or corslet and hoops of crinoline or girdle-baldric of sword, obligated the performers to a certain deportment and gait, in addition to proper manners and to a specific skill of natural artistry of speech in conformity with meter of text and without reducing poetry to the everyday spoken language.
    Although, for want of money in some theaters, I modernized a few of my productions of the classics, I ever was a stickler for variety of concrete historic epochs in the mounting of every play, abhorring primitive unification; and now, I had an opportunity of creating the ebullient and picturesque Elizabethan world in the guise of mythic ancient Denmark that had no bearing on the essential problems of the reality of this spectacular play.
    So, I allotted time for plastic exercises and fencing and set to rehearsals.
    It was understandable that the risky figure of my version was the protagonist, Prince Hamlet, having too abundant a tradition of playing by the best actors of many countries during four centuries.
    Just as in the case of Horatio (I replaced too young a performer that was cast for this part by a middle-aged former "hero" who could have impersonated the prince in an ordinary production and once played Hamlet long ago in actuality), my perusing of the tragedy had shown how superficial were all the preceding readings of the character, and how shortsighted were all treatments of it, imputing now lack of will now a habit of philosophizing instead of doing to this brawny deft fencer and quick-witted ironist gifted with many talents and rare intelligence.
    He was an embodiment of amicability and delicacy until a sudden blow struck by his exemplary mother, whose infatuation, unbecoming her status and age, had crossed up his accession to power; moreover, she did it unbeknown to him and in the way derogatory to his dignity-she unexpectedly presented him with a fait accompli when he returned home to succeed to his father's throne.
    The well-mannered and well-educated lawful successor would scarcely have been tardy in restoring his rights if it were not for his ma's folly; but in the present circumstances, all he can do is to disapprove the unseemly behavior of his frail parent silently, not showing how bitterly she has disappointed her son, who wishes now to leave her alone with her worthless lecher at his earliest convenience.
    As yet Hamlet's disappointment does not extend to the whole human race, though the gaieties of the premature festivities cast a gloom on his innate active optimism. This duality of his mood is underlined with the adjacency of two contrasting episodes-of his presence in the throne-hall and his irritated conversation with the triumphant smug king and of his friendly meeting with Horatio and their reciprocal banter.
    As usual, the true disposition of two opposing sides was becoming clear in the process of my explanatory description pertaining to the motivation of a personage's deeds.
    In particular, why Horatio does not return to Elsinore together with Hamlet? Because if he did so, he would be no more than "Friend to Hamlet"; meanwhile, by prior arrangement, the prince is going to appoint him the second person of the State after the coronation, which demands summoning him officially to take up his duties. To his regret, Horatio waiting for such an invitation receives Hamlet's message about the strange incestuous marriage of the queen handing over the authority to her brother-in-law and about promoting Polonius to the highest rank by the new ruler. The offended heir wants to escape from the defiled family castle back to Wittenberg as soon as he can, so there is no need for Horatio to visit Denmark for taking part in the shameful celebration.
    What does impel him to appear there exactly on the ending of Claudius' enthronement, then? I never heard any answer to this question nor the very question. Horatio's mission is to defend Hamlet, as I said. Yet why has he decided that the prince is in danger just now, neither earlier nor later? This is it, my dear Shakespearian scholars!
    The first spectators of the tragedy did not ask "why" and "what for" after a mention of two comings of the ghost, for they grasped at once that the reason of Horatio's arrival was none other than the wandering spirit. Resting on this obvious dependence, I developed the causality and came to the queen with her witchcraft and long-awaited resurrection of the killed spouse. Thus, I had found a footing for building a visible mechanism of one action being set in motion by the personages of the play only, as it must be in every perfect spectacle.
    Apropos, I shall venture to butt into the never-ending discussion about the very fact of Shakespeare's existence and into the controversy over the hypothetical participation of the other authors scribbling under the mask of his name.
    He had been called "an upstart crow beautified with our feathers" in the pamphlet of one of the then dramatists, and it is the simple truth: he borrows all his plots (excepting that of Merry Wives of Windsor, written in rough-and-ready fashion for Queen Elizabeth's entertainment and made unlike his other plays from the contemporaneous material) as well as many characters and lines of his dramaturgy.
    And what is more, his vocabulary contains twenty five thousand words, which is altogether out of the question for any all-round erudition, taking into consideration that the vocabulary of his contemporary, philosopher sir Francis Bacon, holds ten thousands in all.
    This striking fact may be solely explained by a kind of collaboration between him and some anonymous literary men in his work, among whom I would have positively singled out Amelia Bassano-Lanier, the future first woman-poet in England and in Europe, who had need of such earnings for introducing her education, cultural level and skill of playwright into his plays in the time when any participation of woman in the theatrical art was entailing her excommunication, and in the Shakespeare canon I had found the sound corroboration of my discovery. In the epoch of searching means of subsistence by the impoverished masses, the arising troupes could yield such means, and Shakespeare was a dramatist of one of the troupes struggling for attracting all the social strata of the public, that's why he had seen his profit in the offer of the former mistress of the Lord Chamberlain. As a permanent dramatist of the troupe, he, naturally, worked any stuff up into the final shape of a play, adapting, apparently, all the rough opuses of the aristocracy brought into the Globe Theater by Amelia for the stage or perfecting various old crude chronicles and rude comedies for staging them anew.
    In a sense, Shakespeare was a great dramatizer as well, with the reservation that the word "hack-work" is not often pertinent in assessing his dramatic production, which, as a property of Burbage's troupe, he himself regarded as some waste texts (being his own very relatively), and he never supposed his workmanship could bring posthumous world glory to him beyond his real proceeds as a playwright-shareholder-actor in the period of his activities on the boards of London.
    Theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe's diary accommodating his book-keeping for seventeen years of that time has mentions of a part of plays attributed to Shakespeare, but the name of this member of the competitive partnership is not mentioned anywhere on its pages.
    Elizabethan dramatist's lot was seldom happy in its future perpetuation. Even if Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare's coeval, was immortalized with his tragedies as a famous poet, and his bellicose burly colleague-actor Ben Jonson was renowned as an eminent Latinist and critic, what had become of Hamlet by Thomas Kyd that resounded in Elizabethan theater before Shakespeare's play? (By the by, Shakespeare had taken the plot of this "tragedy of revenge", used in some lost play even before Kyd's one, in the year of his father's death probably in memory of his only son Hamlet, who had died five years ago, and in all likelihood, such innermost motives had suggested to him the idea of the absolutely new turn of the trite plot - as the parental struggle for saving their son, given that the father was already dead.)
    The run of the plays, created for the rivaling troupes, lasted some performances, and afterwards, they usually kept well and truly hidden in the theaters-owners; hence no wonder that all but a few plays of the earlier epoch of England disappeared in obscurity, and it was a pure chance that Shakespeare's companions had sought to make a profit out of publishing some long-unused junk from their coffer with manuscripts-and saved him from falling into oblivion when his remains already reposed in the chancel of Stratford church.
    Anyway, we have his creative heritage before us and can see what principles of building he follows in the plots of his scenic stories. Let's remember that his plays are nothing but stories for the multifarious audience standing before the projecting wooden platform in an open-air ring of the former arena for baiting a bear with dogs, and such spectators must have been carried away by the performances of his dramatic narrations, otherwise they would have been throwing half-eaten apples and lumps of clay at the actors, hooting them off the stage.
    In those days, theater was delivered from necessity to observe any life-likeness of course of time in show, and all the episodes of the play joined one another in unbroken succession so as to form the dynamic motion of a gripping story, irrespective of its realistic intermissions and shifting the scene.
    And oddly enough, the public quite comprehended all the niceties and intricacy of the tragedy and listened attentively to Hamlet's long monologues. Query: why is it so? The answer lies on the surface: Shakespeare excelled in a gift for making speech some tangible action, which the crowd always watched with bated breath.
    Nowadays, the problem that faces every stage-director is to stage these "words, words, words" in such a way that their imaginable action would become visible, allowing for the incapability of our audience to listen to an overly long eloquence. Besides, our public assimilates the psychology of a character only as a structured framework of deeds and events composed in accordance with an intelligible treatment of a personage.
    Sometimes it was, as the saying is, a hard row to hoe, but in Hamlet, I had such a detailed full score of motivation clearly worded that the action-both in the whole and in each episode or part-could be segmented into a lot of well-defined fragments for erecting all levels of my elucidation of all meanings and purports.
    *
    Preparing to create the character of Hamlet, I deemed it sagacious to abandon the very thought of entrusting the task of revision of the role to its performer. I saw enough of the thoughtful princes to gather that no actor was able to exceed the bounds of some traditional interpretation by himself, so that my sacred duty as a stage-director just consisted in making this break doable.
    How do Hamlet's mental merits manifest themselves in the play? In two different ways-of intercourse and self-analysis.
    In his approach to his interlocutors, he displays acumen and encyclopedic range of knowledge, treating everybody according to personality, attitude, and situation; and the diversity of his conversations becomes most noticeable after the truth gets known to him, and he realizes the degree of the dander threatening him on a razor-edge.
    Meanwhile, in his introspective reactions to all talks and affairs, he shows profound mind and integrity and always thinks his line of conduct through, which in fact creates an erroneous impression of his indecisiveness. But his short vacillation is caused by the uncertainty of the ghost's origin, and he loses no time in arranging an occasional performance for verifying Claudius' guilt. Having ascertained what he should do, Hamlet is acting without lingering a minute; and only some external obstacles detain him in avenging his father's death on the murderer.
    There is no episode in the tragedy, where the prince evinces his notorious weak will in deed, not in word; however, he feels distaste for compulsoriness of scheming and killing, for he is a man of the New Learning, who comes into collision with another side of Renaissance moral liberation in Machiavellianism of his uncle.
    What I want to underscore is an insoluble conflict of these anti-poles that belong to one epoch and in effect confess one and the same spectrum of values, being enemies within dimensions of the freedom of the general enlightenment. Let me repeat it once more: the tragedy tells us about the time of Shakespeare, not about the medieval Danish kingdom.
    They are relatives, and it were a sin not to use the similarity of their natural traits for bringing out the distinct difference between them-with geniality and vitality characteristic of both and with a strain of self-reproach not preventing the uncle from doing evil and serving the nephew as a pang of conscience to spur him in employing some rather foul means of struggle, alien to him until he becomes engaged.
    Hamlet is habituated to be answerable to himself for his conduct in conformity with his notions of honor and moral philosophy, so he never agreed with the opinion that "the end justifies the means", but nobody can call him pusillanimous. How do you like the account of his fight with pirates at sea and of his leap onto their ship, for instance?
    In the exclusively adverse circumstances, he is willy-nilly obliged to act contrary to his benignity and probity-to even the odds with his foes, after which his perfidy costs his two friends-traitors their lives.
    Although in their case it serves them right, his murder of Polonius by mistake reproduces his own situation for Laertes, who, being a desperate avenger like him, runs amuck and turns into a tool in the king's hands, while Polonius' young daughter gets such a blow from her royal wooer that she goes mad and meets her death by drowning.
    That is to say, when the noble prince follows the path of evil, he arouses some multiplied evil in response to his logical and rightful measures, and his iniquity horrifies him, driving him to despair by a sense of guiltiness. He meant no harm to those loveable children-that's God's truth; and yet, he makes them pay so terribly for the girlish affection to him and for the indecent stratagem of greasing one of two duel rapiers with poison, though its blade is sharp in the fencing competition as it is.
    The base principle of the author is to chastise any villainy, permitting no perpetrator to go away with impunity, whatever intentions he had, and whoever he was by nature. This rule remains unalterable even for the queen, selflessly devoted to her son, but objectively unfaithful in carnality to her genuine husband; that's why her fatal drinking from the goblet with poisoned wine for Hamlet is, too, a verdict of Providence.
    Since Shakespeare unfolds the plot as a chain of episodes without any definite time and place, the events of his uninterrupted narration are going in rapid succession, and all the personages appear when they are needful for the development of the plot. Such is a specific peculiarity of his theater; therefore, the most of performers ought to build their parts within a few scenes of the story presenting them scrappily in separate moments of their scenic fates, about many other occurrences of which the public only hears from someone's lips. Each fragment is, of course, a kind of culmination, but anyhow, every fate must be created wholly, and with this object, I should expound the content of the proceedings and spiritual life of all the characters and define a dominant complex of psychological motives and reactions for everyone in each of the scenes-links.
    Furthermore, the subtlety of staging Hamlet consists in the structure of the play as a system of its inner comparisons and reciprocal reflections of heroes and situations, because the one who disregards the ideological construction of this tragedy misses out its very essence.
    Beside the two pairs of false and true rulers and chancellors and the two kindred antagonists, who are strikingly alike outwardly in their laugh and manner of speaking (allow me remind that Claudius emulates the kinglike bearing of his brother, while, by Elizabethan popular opinion, son is his father number two), there are two exceedingly obliging chums of the prince in the castle, and they start their court careers with carrying out an important commission for the new king and with writing their friend off as a loser useless for their further advancement and transformation into shameless slickers and mannered-prim doubles of young Osric courtier.
    We have also one positive pole of such a likeness, namely Laertes, who is some years younger than Hamlet and leads a gay life in Paris, gallivanting around with the purpose of knowing the world. Like Hamlet, he is an excellent fencer and a man of honor, and he may possibly attend lectures in the Sorbonne there as the prince did in the University of Wittenberg. In terms of the young generation, Hamlet is a play about the student youth of Europe in Shakespeare's time; yet after their learning, these guys with humanistic views are to collide with all the amenities and atrocities of common life of their century.
    I concur with the researchers being of the opinion that the epithet "fat", used by the queen for Hamlet in the scene of his duel, is a result of misreading the word "hot" in the manuscript, forasmuch as it is a solitary instance in the play, whereas Hamlet's temperament is a self-evident fact and his agility of movements, too. And above all, "fat" is the chief epithet for a comic figure, sir John Falstaff, in three plays till then, so it is inapplicable to the tragic Prince of Denmark.
    I could not participate personally in casting the play, however I had described beforehand to Nicholas what types of actors I needed for some central roles that I already pictured to myself clearly enough by then, and he hadn't let me down.
    Over and above his refined manners, plasticity of a fence-master, self-possession, and quickness of mind, my Hamlet had facilities for declamation with emotional cogency and without any affectation, while Laertes was a quick-tempered comely athlete equally wielding a sword, but lacking sang-froid. They were unconditionally two heroes from their first entrance in the mass scene of the Royal Council, where the crowned king gives Danish scholars his permission for departure to their foreign seats of learning after the conclusion of the celebration of his coronation.
    To this key episode, I shall revert later, but before that, I must depict my Jesuitical ploy toward the middle-aged actor playing Horatio, because he could still pretend to the title part, which he undoubtedly deserved by all parameters except his years. There was an age scale of specimens of Renaissance types in my production, and Hamlet in Claudius' forties would have been absolutely inadmissible in my conceptual vision of the tragedy, though this master of stagecraft proved perfect as Horatio in his fifties.
    The process of passing from one age category to another is always painful for an artist who feels superseded by young successors, but I hoped to inspire him with the utmost importance of his personage in the context of my new reading of the classic.
    "Actually, Horatio is the greatest figure in the play, with some pivotal function of his presence from its first episode to its final denouement," I was persuading him in an empty ballet-room with big mirrors and bars along the walls after a short rehearsal of fencing, in which my vis-à-vis took part as the chief consultant. "Every time when he comes out onto the boards, he is held in great respect; and to his judgment all listen with due deference. Hamlet considers him the wisest adviser and sole confidant, while the king feels some involuntary timidity before this highly esteemed grandee.
    "For all that, his composure must compel attention and exert such an influence upon the others without any hubristic swagger and strutting. Who else, if not you, is equal to this task in your troupe? I know you played the prince, but till now, Horatio never was such an important figure in any production, for I want you to show by your personality what breeding has created Hamlet, and why he is such.
    "Look, even Laertes contrives to incite the Dane to rise against Claudius by reason of his father's murder, in ignorance of Hamlet's guilt; and the king hardly defends himself from the opprobrium. Disentangling from the ructions, he even appeals to the queen enjoying their confidence. Why does Hamlet desist from rebellion, though he is the people's pet? A hint about the killing of their beloved king would suffice him to lead them against the murderer. Because it is Horatio's stance, twice signified in his advice to Gertrude and in the last episode of the play, to avoid resorting to the common people's assistance in form of mutiny and revolt.
    "And I gave only one of the examples of his views reflecting on Hamlet's behavior. Besides, Horatio has his own tragic culmination when his prince is dying; and before this parting, he shows his mastery of fighter and his rage of berserk in hewing his way to the throne for the prince.
    "If it comes to that, it is just he who pulls Hamlet and Laertes back from each other like two belligerent boys in the scene in Ophelia's grave as he did it in the scuffles of their childhood. And note how they obey him."
    "As far as I can see, you're aiming to create a new tradition of this part," said my ex-prince.
    "Only with the aid of a worthwhile performer," I flattered him.
    Yet in his case, I did not sin against the honest truth.
    *
    It goes without saying that my given cajolery was a certain point of the whole system of neutralizing someone's individual resistance to my creative will, without which no production was implemented. By emphasizing irreplaceability, I could ever find a way to enlist everybody's support in my work instead of formal obligation to fulfill my directions halfheartedly; and for the sake of the best result, I always strove to make all the associates my accomplices in staging the play, on whose contribution the success of the show was partly depending. As a pragmatist, I don't believe in any general enthusiasm in professional theater, but I am sure I can rely on personal ambition.
    I shall never tire to reiterate to myself that when I come in the theater, my future masterpiece is merely mine, and when I go out, the completed spectacle must be a product of all the participants of the production.
    So, I'll sketch what an insight I had in the scene of the first assembly of the king's court, which was ever regarded as an informative preamble to the action beginning after Claudius sent two men to the uncle of Fortinbras in order that the elder would dissuade his nephew from unleashing a war against Denmark.
    Afterwards, these Voltimand and Cornelius again appear in the castle to report of the successful issue of their errand, but any answer to the question, "Who are they?" remains shrouded in mystery.
    Sooth to say, such an irrelevant pause in the breathtaking plot and such anonymous personages in the thick of the fighting dreadfully exasperated me as a son of harmony uniting all the elements of every play into a single entity of my show without any exception and obscure places, notably in the most perfect tragedy of the world dramatic art.
    "Why," I asked myself, "has the king chosen just these fellows?"
    In all probability, it is because they are acquainted with the afore-named uncle. Consequently, both of them are middle-aged comrades-in-arm of the late king, aren't they? Then, maybe, Claudius has another reason to send them? For example, he purposes to remove them from Elsinore and Denmark. As it appears from the plot, having gotten rid of the two representatives of the old guard protecting Hamlet, the king proposes to solve the problem with his dangerous nephew without their presence beside the prince.
    It was understandable now why nothing had happened to the son of poisoned Hamlet till then; and I had an idea how I could show who was who on the stage.
    Perhaps in the Globe Theater the public following the train of events of the story did not go into such analytical details, but since that time, much water had flowed under the bridge; therefore, as a director, I felt called on to fill every figure of the play with meaning and provide even mutes with their own characters and functions.
    Imagine a festive motley crowd of Danish noblemen, courtiers, and officers of the royal suite clothed in ceremonial dresses, mingled with the richly appareled ladies bedecked in furs and jewels, which had assembled in the ornate throne-hall adorned with parti-colored garlands and flowers on the occasion of the coronation. And among those garish sumptuous attires and bright faces, one can distinguish three men in black: Hamlet and the two adherents of his father escorting him.
    Do you sense what subtext arises at once in a plain dialogue of the king and Cornelius? The voluntary body-guards of the prince are aware that the king is entrusting this diplomatic assignment to them to separate them from Hamlet, vulnerable in their absence, but they serve the ruler governing in the state, and all they can do in the given conditions is to embrace their uncrowned monarch encouragingly at parting.
    But for Horatio coming out in the next episode, Hamlet might have been assailed by killers ere he could understand anything; thus, his guardian angel arrives just in time.
    In the interim, the two envoys are returning to the castle after the fulfillment of their mission-to stand together with officers Marcellus and Bernardo in the way of the king's servants at the unmasking performance. Then they join battle at Horatio's signal in the last scene, forming the camp of Hamlet's supporters in contrast to the two young pals of the prince, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are dispatched to worm secrets out of their supposedly mad friend before the return of the older courtiers. (The latter appear additionally in place of the nameless bit parts of a Gentleman warning about the riot, a Messenger bringing Hamlet's letter to the king, and a Lord inviting Hamlet to his duel.)
    *
    However, I shall rather proceed with explaining the title role requiring virtuosity of its performer in combination with a hard architectonics of its action, for Hamlet stays before the audience during the most part of the tragedy, excepting the time of a respite from his meeting with Fortinbras' troop up to his appearance in the churchyard.
    Within this blank, it comes Laertes' turn to move the play and Ophelia's one-to enhance the dramatic tension with her madness, while of Hamlet's adventures we could only hear from some sailors and the receivers of his letters. De facto, Polonius' son catches up the subject of revenge and does what the prince can do still more easily and successfully, but will never do for the reason that becomes clear due to the scene of the mutiny.
    Having enough artistic folk at my disposal, I could allow my imagination unrestricted freedom, so the episode proved definitely appalling.
    With an increasing roar, the rioting crowd is bursting into the state apartments of the castle; and after some seconds, its inhabitants find themselves surrounded by the furious Danes that are brandishing clubs and choppers above their heads and prodding them with cudgels and lances. The unruly vociferous rabble shouting, "Laertes shall be king!", still hesitates to strike the first blow at the prostrated nobility, yet they are already raising their burning torches to lordly tapestries and luxurious fitments. In view of such riotousness, Laertes is forced to be pushing the rioters out by himself, albeit with the help of the armed Swiss guards, to amend the situation hanging in the balance on the brink of slaughter.
    As a psychological realist, I did not accept this implausible submission of the mutineers immediately retiring at Laertes' request, and I prolonged their staying in the hall until the emotive episode of Ophelia's re-entering in state of stark madness with straws and flowers, which touches the commonalty to the heart and actually relieves tension, making the Danes amenable to persuasion.
    Nevertheless, the eloquent prince seldom if ever leaves the foreground of the tragedy; hence, my task was to make him the focus of continual unremitting interest in spite of the hardly-fine public tastes hostile to rhetorical garrulity. I have no other way to achieve the desirable concentration of attention on the protagonist but one-to turn his monologues into deeds.
    For this purpose, I departed from my custom of setting to assay of my direction in physical actions as soon as possible and sat down at table with Mark and Lillian (Hamlet and Ophelia) for some intermediate rehearsals.
    "No declamation, buddy," I said to the collected sinewy cove, who would be quite suitable for the part of D'Artagnan. "Every time, you stand before some new decision, so your monologue is your way to passing from comprehension to activity. Hamlet is hot-blooded and strong-willed, but his brainwork has inured him to self-control, for self-possession is one of the merits that the code of an ideal sovereign comprises.
    "Twice he explodes with rage, and twice through a breach of his code: when in his mother's bedroom, by mistake, he kills Polonius instead of Claudius, which makes his first murder utterly unbearable and really disturbs his mind, and when in the churchyard he sees Laertes in Ophelia's grave and recognizes that he is the culprit of her suicidal death.
    "Mind you, he was ever so considerate of her and so solicitous about her safety. He is thirteen years older than she is, and he fostered her from her childhood, wooing her tenderly in the courtly love's manner until she was sent to him by his enemy to play the role of temptress not suiting her."
    "That is, I'm somewhat off my nut in these scenes?"
    "Otherwise your conduct is inexplicable. But you have only two nervous breakdowns in the play, and as for the rest, you are able to keep your feelings to yourself. Strictly speaking, you can restrain your bursts of frantic anger just owing to such feverish talks with yourself or with somebody, and you never lose your reason entirely, since from Hamlet's first entrance to his last phrase, "The rest is silence", you exist within one dimension of resisting some urgent dictates of your milieu.
    "Look how it's built. The prince returns to bury his father and become the next king, but he is unexpectedly moved aside with the indecent marriage of his mother and his uncle. Yet anyway, she is his mammy, so he aspires to go away from his Royal Family covered itself with ignominy, dissociating himself by his escapism from the swinishly reveling court of the reigning nonentity and avoiding his open confrontation with this odious specimen out of disdainful pity for the fallen queen. The more he loathes the vicious spirit of the age set in Elsinore, the more he seeks to hold aloof, and when the king refuses him permission, he gives vent to his indignation in a vehement caustic diatribe without witnesses, which enables us to determine the degree of his strain at the starting point of the further scale."
    "That is, I feel as if I were driven into a corner?"
    "Yes, but you are rather an infuriated lion rushing about in a cage of the castle."
    *
    Here I stopped myself shortly, for at that moment, I had a sudden insight of the solution of this episode, and it was too early to let the performer into it.
    After the colorful throng of the pompous scene, where the half-drunk crowned king gives his first orders and the ostensibly besotted queen endorses his recommendations, all the feasters, accompanying the king from the feast in honor of his coronation with goblets in their hands, are gradually dispersing, forsaking Hamlet alone in the festive hall before a big long table covered with empty bottles and plates and littered with leavings of wassail. And lots of drained goblets and glasses are standing both on the table and everywhere around, so that the prince is left in the atmosphere of a temporarily interrupted celebration.
    In the course of his monologue, Hamlet now knocks off this crockery and glassware wrathfully from the purple velvet tablecloth now hurls the silverware in frenzy at the flowery garlands on the Gobelins. Having composed himself by Horatio's entrance, he points at the havoc of the hall made by him in corroboration of his ironical promise to teach his friend to drink deep in Elsinore.
    Then, jittering in anticipation of the appearance of his father's ghost, Hamlet resumes the theme of drunkenness in a serious tone, speaking his mind concerning all this infamous low farce through his censure of one Danish vice; accordingly, we keep the inner integrity of unfolding the role intact from the very beginning.
    The most interesting is his reaction to the relation of the ghost about the poisoning that had sent Hamlet's father to the grave.
    Hamlet is staggered by the secret opened to him, but notice, he does not lose his head and proves his strength of mind, taking precautionary measures against disseminating any information of the ghost and his meeting with it and inventing how he can conceal his dismay under the disguise of love-distraction to allay the king's suspicions. I am sure the public has more sense than to believe in plausibility of his craziness, and every spectator is able to guess why he simulates derangement from his sober prudence in the question of doubtfulness of the ghost's authenticity and from his organization of verification extempore in a spectacle-trap.
    Henceforward, he knows what objects and plans for his future Claudius has at present, yet his inadvertent murder of Polonius, the father of his intended, shatters him: losing his temper because of his irreparable mistake, he rages at his mother, berating and upbraiding her for her lubricity in his powerless indignation against the fate that has palmed off the wrong man on him.
    Had the ghost-of his father for a certainty-not restrained him showering abuse on her, his unbridled desperation would have grown into violent savageness; nonetheless, after his prolix hectic admonition to the wedded harlot on the subject of chastity (being accompanied by his energetic deeds, which will be enumerated below), he speaks to Polonius' corpse in a mockingly reproachful tone and drags it away very disrespectfully, as if expressing his reprobation to the victim of his hasty lunge.
    Having committed his homicide, Hamlet can hardly endure his guilt complex that aggravates the gloominess of his perception of the world and impels him at the same time to behave still more resolutely, advancing on the path of self-destructive evil further (thence comes his foolhardiness in the fight with the pirates boarding his ship in the open sea).
    In his monologue at the sight of Fortinbras' troop, he is saluting the jolly armed cutthroats that are marching past him on both sides and appear imbrued with blood in the glow of sunset suffusing the sky and reddening them, as though he feels some propinquity to them and obtains some moral support among the devil-may-care soldiery rallied for massacre and looting in readiness to kill without qualms, just as it beseems him to act after steeping his hands in the first blood.
    But before this dividing line, his acting affords him an opportunity to draw someone out with his provocative remarks and size his opponent up; besides, he derives as much as possible from the coming of the strolling players turned up at the right moment-to elicit the fact of Claudius' fratricide.
    To all appearances, the troupe had escaped from the capital in the connection with a new epidemic of plague frequently occurring in England in days of old, and all the actors are known to the prince, who instantly sets about ascertaining their suitability to the plan of trapping the murderer that matures in his head. I had Hamlet's exposition of principles of truth to nature slightly abridged, or else it might have resembled a lesson of the Stanislavsky system, and I set him the "super-objective" in the scene to select what fragments of plays and what qualities of performers would be required to piece his short performance.
    For that reason, when the artistic brethren goes away to feast, leaving Hamlet alone by their mobile platform-pageant, he seems to be playing both his imaginary playlet and all of them in turn in his monologue, trying on now a sham gilded crown now a wreath of white paper roses now a black shaggy wig out of the costumes of the personages selected for some old-fashioned tragedy he plans to perform before the king as a snare for the crowned villain. In the end, Hamlet grows so heated with catching his uncle red-handed that he goes berserk and throws away the theatrical sword of his rehearsal. With his sharp steel foil, he again and again smites the black costume of the scenic poisoner hanging in a row of the others on the tarpaulin wall of the pageant. Hamlet is in black, too, and it looks like his duel with his own shadow, while his wild passes forestall his delivering a mortal blow in the bedchamber of the queen.
    The godsend of this solution of Hamlet's monologue was that he plays not only all the characters of the spectacle to be but also himself watching it beside the platform-stage in hesitation how to overstep the border dividing his present state and the irrevocability of his transformation into a killer; and just here, he overcomes his squeamishness and unsheathes his blade to slay his enemy.
    His clairvoyance tells on his soul like a real bloodshed and stirs his repugnance for the nauseating human existence, which will be voiced in his next monologue, "To be or not to be", explaining his impending spiritual collapse to Horatio, for Hamlet foresees the consequences of his revenge for his psyche-not guessing what catastrophe is really imminent. As he knows how commission of murder will affect him, he finds no way out of his dilemma: "to be" signifies that he must submit to the inevitability of overstepping his own self for the sake of vengeance and comply with the general rules of the game in the despicable earthly world, while "not to be" is excluded for him till his duty to father is unperformed, whatever he visualized as "life after death".
    Yet before the meeting with the actors, Hamlet meets with his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, warning him about the arrival of the troupe. He figures them out in a trice, and their wiles to determine whether he has any derangement or feigns madness making a fool out of Claudius are instantly rumbled by him.
    Here we have a typical omission of time in the scheme of the plot, since Ophelia's information of Hamlet's strange visit follows the night scene of his intercourse with the ghost, and then there comes the scene of the appearance of the invited pair before the king together with the return of Voltimand sent to settle the disagreement of the brewing war conflict. It evidences some space of time after the first announcement of Hamlet's insanity adjoining the unbrokenly linked episodes of the first part.
    From Claudius' delineating the situation for his newly recruited spies it gets known that Hamlet is crack-brained, but the coincidence of Hamlet's sudden madness and Horatio's timely coming seems extremely suspicious and alarming to the king, who could find no gap in the constant custody of the next guardian while the previous ones are away on errand for him-in spite of the deceptive vulnerability of the allegedly loony nephew.
    The king reasonably discounts the story of his love-sickness, for as an inveterate lady-killer, Claudius sees no base for this: the thirty-year-old student is his own master in Wittenberg and indubitably leads a not very sinless life there, whereas Polonius' daughter is seventeen approximately, because she just comes into her marriageable age. The prince is captivated, maybe, by her innocent charm for his pastime in Elsinore, but she is in a sense a creation of her admirer from a child.
    Indeed, Hamlet does not look like a boobyish swain brainsick through his ladylove's refusal, even if he really loves his grown-up missy, who has at last become a pretty girl fond of him. And their mutual love, different in their attitudes to the beloved, is the kernel of the insolubility after he starts playing his role of mental patient.
    This tragedy has a pair of contrasting similarity in the weaker sex, too; and strange to relate, both of two women, Gertrude and Ophelia, are happy in the beginning in their own ways.
    The queen, plunged into lavish sexual life in that very moment when she thought it lost forever, is morbidly addicted to her lustful marriage alliance with Claudius, skilled in stirring up her sensuality.
    The young beauty simply beams with happiness in her first scene in reply to the edifying homily of her brother and to her father's sermonizing about impregnability of her virtue, as her heart is overwhelmed with joy just for the reason deplorable for her deity: he doesn't become the next king-consequently, he may make her his wife as before (though she is not the best match for the Crown Prince of Denmark), nor does he get permission to leave the castle-therefore, he will go on with courting and blandishing her (half in joke, but with hidden passion).
    Playing at love with Ophelia, Hamlet eventually fell in real love with his "sweet little thing", and now her behavior towards him entirely depends on his behavior towards her, for she is ready (and so eager) to give herself to him-to her one and only man, to her unmatched favorite, to her divine prince. That is why Ophelia's love very resembles Gertrude's one in the past as Hamlet describes it, and such a concentration on the object of her idolization is pregnant with disastrous outcomes for a selfless woman, notably in the midst of the battle of two camps.
    Roughly speaking, Ophelia's catastrophe is intended for giving the most glaring example of destructiveness of evil as such.
    While initially, she is so intoxicated with love that her girlish puerility in the matter of vital importance-keeping her virginity safe-irritates her two relatives trying in vain to bring her to reason and provokes their expansive expatiation on this sore subject, then she recounts, bewildered, about the prince, dismayed and unusually negligent in dress, whose visit-adjacent to the scene of Hamlet's meeting with the uncanny being and the harrowing tale of this wraith-is in effect his entry into a fateful game with his life at stake.
    Further, in her third episode, Ophelia serves as a certain testing ground for Hamlet's feigned madness, being unaware of her role and following her father's instructions to return his feelings, which was just her long-cherished wish. The problem is that she cannot exploit her sexuality, because the prince, not she, was always an initiator in love, making advances to her in a bit fatherly manner, so their encounter under the secret supervision of the king and Polonius turns out the total failure of her seduction and the complete ruin of her belied hopes.
    It is the first scene where we see our doves cooing together, and the date begins as some continuation of their relations-in verses, but abruptly passes to prose. The change occurs immediately Ophelia tries to start Hamlet enticing her less covertly and more sensually. From her clumsy flirtation, he guesses at once that she is a decoy (suborned by a promise to betroth her to him), whose ogling aims to pump him for reliable information about his health and fish out secrets of his sincerity. Although her young flesh attracts him irresistibly, inflaming his passion, and even her erotic clumsiness fascinates him, stirring his blood, he cannot but reckon her among his foes and reacts impulsively by his mockingly anguished insistent repetition "Go to nunnery" to the exciting nearness of her bare shoulders and half-naked breast.
    Yet she, of course, does not rate herself among any dummies and string-puppets subservient to someone's machinations-she simply reciprocates Hamlet's feelings frankly and unambiguously. She thinks he will be happy to obtain such evidences of her love, which will argue him out of his conviction that his love is unrequited. She holds that after her confession he will realize that he took her attitude amiss, and it will assuage his craziness about her by the prospect not in the least grim, quite the contrary, more and more brightening up.
    But Hamlet's behavior corresponds to his exterior pictured by her after his visit in the state of mental disorder: needling her sarcastically by barbs and confusing her with his scabrous hints, he embarrasses her with his rude acerbic remarks, though that is not like him with his usual politeness and tact.
    By the by, why, one might ask, the most of Hamlets defiling on the stage are so neat in their representation of madman? From what, then, must we deduce that the prince has gone barmy? In the legend he is wallowing in mud in the pigsty to show his lunacy, so the first thing that Hamlet ought to do in his acting is, naturally, a change of his outward appearance, otherwise nobody will understand that he is screwy, since his discourses can scarcely be called incoherent or senseless. As a model he takes a court jester uttering a word of wisdom amid his antics and buffoonery, while in lieu of such a distinguishing feature as a fool's cap, he should have something showy and witnessing his insanity. Thus the tidy delicate swell with polished manners becomes a slovenly scarecrow in an unbuttoned rumpled doublet and dragging fallen stockings, his hair tousled-his look faraway-his sneer wry, so that everyone would shrink back in disgust from this scary abnormality distorting the reason and conduct of the poor brainy man of fashion.
    The king is the only one who does not hasten to believe in his mental disease, and just the rendezvous Claudius watches from behind the wall carpet is proof positive of Hamlet's simulation. Summing up the results of observation and the invulnerability of the prince (that crops up in the time of his foregoing monologue "To be or not to be" when Horatio's officers incidentally stand in defense of him against two approaching hitmen and thwart the king's plans), Claudius comes to decision to second the canny nephew to England in company with two unscrupulous friends of his youth, having vested them with a confidential function to contribute to his prompt execution. When spying the king still does not apprehend what surprise the prince has prepared for him in an innocent amusement of the performance-to entrap the regicide and extort an admission of guilt from him.
    Meantime Hamlet rebuffs Ophelia's coquetry and reduces her to tears with his rebukes and affronts, offensive and undeserved, completely nonplusing her in the end. On his last "To nunnery", she begins to sob her heart out, bewailing the ruined merits of her ideal idol crushed by his mental aberration to smithereens, however hard the two eavesdroppers try to console her after Hamlet exits.
    The question is how the standoffish prince can respond with consent to her candid offer of flesh and soul if he acts under pressure of the inexorable logic of his survival for vengeance. Had he slaked his thirst, what unquenchable desire might replace it as a source of derangement of mind? No, ever since he chooses his love as a camouflage, he wages his war under coercion of the circumstances and cannot yield to any temptation, notwithstanding that it is touching his Achilles' heel.
    To great regret, as an amorist having the knack of liaisons, the king gets at the truth just in consequence of the discrepancy between Hamlet's pangs of love and his conduct: if the longing admirer is obsessed by ardent desire to possess this bit of fluff, why he has enough willpower to refrain from hugging and kissing her when she cuddles up to him, and her body thrilling with passion is so attainable to his caresses? It turns out that he is capable of controlling himself if his weak point somehow does not drive him mad despite of pretending to be out of his senses through love-sickness.
    *
    Then the plot is going to its culmination: coming to the crunch, Hamlet gives the last instructions to the actors and agrees with Horatio how they will be watching Claudius' reaction to the play representing his own crime. (In my spectacle, Horatio has a right of sitting in presence of His Majesty as a highborn lord.)
    Meanwhile, the music of a beginning dance is heard behind the curtain of wall carpets, and when it rises-lo and behold!-we see many merry pairs dancing to the accompaniment of virginals and being led by the couple of the crowned heads. The dance lasts until the strolling troupe wheels out the platform of pageant, and the trumpets sound in the hall, calling attention to the theatrical entertainment.
    Demonstrating the defiant maladroitness of a crackpot, Hamlet reclines on Ophelia's knees to comment on the show, whereas she treats him as a capricious child, showing maternal compassion to her batty invalid.
    It was the second mass scene, and as the court spectators were forming various picturesque, but stationery groups in my diagonal spatial composition, where two thrones were situated in the center in front of the platform standing obliquely turned to the audience, while at its front end, on the right side of the proscenium, Horatio settled himself in an armchair with his back to the stalls, and at its far end, in the angle between the mobile stage and the crowd of the king's suit, Hamlet's disheveled head reposed on Ophelia's lap (thus Claudius was continually in the focus of their gazes), I could create the dynamics of the scene by dint of the distinct and abrupt transfers of "centers of attraction" from one point to another and by help of the collective reactions of the groups highlighting the culminations of individual acting.
    After Vsevolod Meyerhold, worked out the symbolism of gestures of his biomechanics, it was entirely the matter of my imagination and collaboration with choreographer. Its peak the mass action reaches at the moment the king explodes with rage and flings his "Switzers" into the battle. Because the lying prince is already screened by the four old officers won renown on the battlefield, the craven king funks an open clash, and on Claudius' quick retreat, the crowd follows him.
    The next mass scene will be Laertes' mutiny with Ophelia's madness serving as a kind of oil poured on troubled waters and pacifying the boisterous rebels; but before this part given to the brother and sister for reacting to their woe, Hamlet was fated to inflict such a blow on her that she loses her reason. I mean the episode in the bedchamber of the queen, which is, maybe, the most crucial one for Hamlet's character and for his life that the hapless murder breaks even more irretrievably than the meeting with the ghost.
    He dashes, gladdened, towards the voice of an invisible watcher, thinking he has caught the king sunk in vice, and his mistake strikes him like a bolt from the blue. In the course of his further monologue to his mother, he again and again returns to the dead body, as though not believing in the reality of this death, and its irrefutability sends him mad, taking into account that he comes to the queen after the best proof of Claudius' guilt and the episode of the king's prayer when Hamlet declines to transfix the murderer with his foil, not wishing to impair the force of the eternal torment destined to his uncle in Hell.
    The ghost takes him down a peg and forbids him severely to revile his mother (in my production I answer why his dead father is so lenient to her infidelity), whereat Hamlet, venting his fury on the incestuously defiled bed, rives the draperies of its canopy, pulls off the coverlet and blanket, and flings the pillows at a big silver-framed mirror, through which the ghost enters then, throwing all the bed-clothes about over the room. Exhorting the impious fornicatress heatedly to deny herself sins of flesh, he goes so far as to kick one of the carved wood pillars carrying the vault of alcove and, having broken it by his second kick, begins to destroy the construction of the massive heavy bed until at last, by the conclusion of his preaching, he leaves only a pile of wreckage in place of the ruined cozy alcove, although Gertrude makes unsuccessful attempts to curb the frenzy of her raving lunatic, supplementarily fanned by the new bloodcurdling appearance of her damned husband invoked by her from the other world.
    It is worth noticing that Hamlet departs very soon to England to recover some debt, and he has no notion of consequences of his murder until his skirmish with Laertes in the churchyard. Besides, he no longer delivers any monologues after his final decision among Fortinbras' soldiers of fortune on the eve of the sailing of his ship. A pretty piece of the action is handed thus to Polonius' children, and even Horatio stays in Elsinore for one remark to the queen about desirability of her reception of mad Ophelia and for reading Hamlet's letter of what has happened to the prince in his absence.
    I'd like to call the critics' attention to this sizeable fragment of the most famous tragedy in the world dramaturgy, for it is a crying breach of the rules to remove the protagonist from the stage for a quarter of the play and employ such primitive devices as timely delivery of letters or narration of poetic death by drowning instead of showing the coherent development of a plot. Neither poet nor literary man would stoop so low as to lend himself to a change of the leading hero for capturing the audience with cheap effects in some episodes of his dramaturgical story. None but a mercenary-minded practical worker of theater staging his plays for the common people and being extremely interested in bringing down the house from day to day.
    I adhere to the opinion that Shakespeare, existing in the loquacious Elizabethan epoch, had the gift of the gab and was the greatest narrator animating whatever he touched. Being by sheer luck of every man of genius in the right place at the right time, he was a dab hand at holding the audience in his powerful grip, and he approaches the building of a play rather as a director than as a writer. He knew by stage experience that two similar heroes must act separately, because both of them are protagonists, and their contact is a culmination clash, or else they become a two-edged poleaxe clipping the wings of their supremacy in the show (excuse my flourishes).
    That's why there is no touch between them in the scene of the king's first orders, and Laertes replaces Hamlet on the stage only for a sanctimonious sermon on virgin modesty to his credulous sexy sister and for listening to his father's sermon on importance of respectability to him at parting. His speechifying had been designed to make him out as a honorable young man, but apparently Shakespeare was not overfond of prigs (apart from his professional wont to interpose such genre and comic scenes between tragic and dramatic pieces of action, interlaying the sublime with the ridiculous), for the two edifying speeches going in succession create an impression of travesty of moralizing, especially when Polonius sends an informer after his foppish brave son to control the observance of his injunctions.
    Of Laertes not a word was heard up to his breaking into the throne-room at the head of the riotous crowd bursting into the castle to topple the king and crown him-when he catches up the thread of Shakespeare's narrative. The swift evolution of this noble model of chivalry from stirring rebellion for his reckless deposition of the monarch to his consent to that shabby trick with one sharp rapier of fencing competition offered by Claudius, and even to his blatant meanness with poison greased on the sharpened point of blade, constitutes a directly opposite parallel with Hamlet's secretiveness in his vain efforts to localize the ruinous emanation of the evil done by him.
    Such a contrast gave me a good chance to balance the action of my staging with the fourth mass scene missing in the text, where the mutiny was slightly designated, but suppressed by Laertes' two remarks (incredible!), as the play had its carcass resting on four large crowd scenes in the throne-hall: the first entrance of the new ruler, the performance of the strolling troupe, the insurrection of the Danes, the fencing bout of the prince and Laertes. Between those scenes, there are three relatively mass ones propping the vastness of the plot: Hamlet with the actors, Hamlet with Fortinbras' soldiery, Hamlet at Ophelia's funeral.
    It was natural that I ought to have staged the last ravings of the ill-fated damsel so as to wring tears from the eyes of my not very sentimental contemporaries. The implementation of my intention was based on the influence of the crowd's collective reactions of compassion and sympathy on the public being infected with the feeling for the poor young beauty, in whose conduct the exaggerated girlish modesty befitting her is mixing with some unmaidenly smuttiness of her untouched and unsatisfied virginity. It was in sooth a pitiful sight, this singing and dancing mad popsy afflicted so unjustly by the misfortune that had blasted her opening sexuality in the bloom of youth; and owing to my skillful coordination of the musical rhythm with the calculated emotional replies of the gradually softening savage boors to her offering of flowers and herbs, the scene acquired simply heartrending power to affect the spectators, holding them spell-bound up to Ophelia's disappearance, after which the foreign Swiss guards could easily boot the mob out of the hall.
    *
    While we're on the subject, I must mention my work with the music director of the theater, without whom much of what I've imagined would be unattainable.
    Music, if it is rightly picked out, makes the impression of the staging deeper and sometimes overmastering; so we together specified our vision of every episode in its soundtrack, mulling over it beforehand, because he clothed my indistinct fantasies in some concrete fragments of someone's opuses (of the English Virginalists as an example), sooner or later finding just what I groped for, though Purcell's counter-tenor-angel in the epilogue was my own revelation.
    From the prologue in the turret of alchemist, there was the ghost's theme in the spectacle, and its recurrence arises in two episodes on the patch of the battlement, then in the queen's bedchamber, and then, as a faint increasing leitmotif, in the episode of Horatio's reading of Hamlet's letter-to remind of the springs of the action.
    Yet some reverberations of this amplified and embellished theme are heard in the triumphal march of acclaiming the king sounding in the mass scene of Claudius' first entrance as a ceremonially pompous version, while as a marching song, it is being hummed by Fortinbras' troop passing past the prince standing in the sunset stream of ensanguined killers. In the last episode, Fortinbras also enters to the same melody of the imperially-bombastic fanfares and trumpets reducing later to the austere style of military parade, so that Horatio is concluding his final monologue without any music, to the heavy rhythmical stamping of soldiers' jackboots shaking Elsinore, which is sinking, glowing blood-red, into the narrowing darkness; and the angelic voice lighting the shining behind the black walls of the lowered carpets arises, soaring, just from the abyss of this eternal gloom.
    As regards "lyrical component", it appertained to Ophelia.
    In accordance with the text, she wants to return Hamlet's present to him, while he made this present, of course, at parting, before his supposed departure; therefore, in her first episode of double admonition, she holds his gift, a small lute, the strings of which she plucks musingly, as if stroking the face of her beloved, exasperating her brother and father by her absent-minded strumming.
    Later, Polonius catches her rapt in reverie with the same lute, and she brings it to Hamlet in order to have something in her hands for diminishing her bashfulness. Being baffled, she mechanically runs her fingers over the strings in the awkward pauses when the prince starts back from her décolletage, which ends badly. Hamlet snatches the gifted lute out of her hands and casts it away on his parting "To nunnery", causing a burst of her tears. Sobbing, she picks up the musical instrument and bemoans her precipitated deity in this piece of wood.
    Appearing at the queen after her derangement, Ophelia plays on the lute, too, till her words of losing virginity. Here she wraps the lute as her bastard-baby in a shred of fabric rent from her lap, gives it the breast publicly, and hands it the queen-grandmother before her further walking. It is quite logical that melodies of Renaissance lutenists are figuring in the episodes of her madness and in her funeral procession.
    The strolling actors also come out playing rollickingly on flute, drums, and a big lute; and they are vamping episodically in all their scenes, including their performance for the court that has only just broken off the general dance.
    Such is the musical disposition of my Hamlet in brief, but add to it a lot of sound effects and background music at times, hardly audible, however impressing, for a good staging must have no moment blankly gaping by inexpressiveness.
    From the point of view of stage-director, the play consists of some completed parts of action, so I had divided the tragedy into three acts, pursuant to the accepted rules, ending the first act with Hamlet's monologue at the theatrical pageant and with his frantic stabs in the black attire of a scenic villain, while the second one was ended with his monologue among the marching soldiery, though, as a matter of fact, Shakespeare's plays have no division of such a kind, and the wholeness of each accounts for its construction.
    As applied to Hamlet, that gives us to understand why the scene in the churchyard opens with the long wittiness of a conversation of two clowns-grave-diggers. Going without any intervals, the performance gathers an excessive speed after the spectacle-trap, the murder of Polonius, Laertes' mutiny, and Ophelia's madness, and it is necessary to brake slightly before the home stretch of the final conflict of Hamlet and Laertes bringing to a sad end of both of them and eke of the king and the queen. For that reason, I had enlarged and enforced the preceding scenes of the rebellion and Ophelia's mad divertimento with the lute as a suckling and herbs-flowers in the third act after the second entr'acte.
    The staging of plays is like a composer's work; and if the mechanism of the unfolding of the plot is properly built, I am sure that it is perfect enough to influence the emotions of the public rightly, whatever blunders the performers commit. Composing my show, I speeded up the action by the increasing tension of two episodes: of Horatio's reading Hamlet's letter to the background music of the ghost's theme and of Claudius' talk with Laertes about liquidating Hamlet after their receipt of another letter of the unexpectedly live prince.
    Shakespeare loves standing mirrors before his heroes, and the conversation of the clowns is a travestying reflection of Hamlet's reasoning of mortality and decay, yet in literal sense and without his death-fear. Returned to kill the king at any cost, Hamlet instantly perceives this similarity, and his intercourse with them, which seems needless in the plot, serves him for alienating his obsessive mania of death as a murder and suicide. He does not like to be guided by such fanatical narrow-mindedness, more characteristic of some bigot or bloodthirsty freak, so he jumps at the chance of objectifying his destructively perilous thoughts in some uncouth bumpkins cynically disdainful to any cadavers, skeletons, and death wish, for the witty reasonableness of those clodhoppers is mere delectation for his despondency.
    Withal, his dialogue with the grave-digger reminds the spectators of the key event mentioned in the introductory episode of the tragedy, namely of the single combat of Hamlet's father in the year of his birth, and gives a prompt concerning the model of Hamlet's odd behavior in the role of a touched adorer, to wit, the king's jester who minded the prince in his early childhood.
    I dare aver that his sentimental talk with Yorick's skull is inserted in this informative fragment preparing Ophelia's funeral with a view to smoothing the sharp negative impression made by the suffering of Polonius' children, orphaned through Hamlet's fault. After his pithy essay about abominable transfigurations of the human perishable flesh being devoured by worms in the soil and after his recollections of the past, so feelingly expressed, whose soul won't find mitigating circumstances to extenuate his misdemeanor, except Laertes' one imbued with hatred.
    The author is indisputably a real pro in presenting his personages in due aspect and from due angle so as to dispose the audience to the attitude that he needs to have in the given moment. Whoever he was, he knew that theater is a place for emotions, not for meditation, whatever serves the boards as mental pabulum; and giving the public a short rest in the tragic unwinding of the plot, he reduces the degree of the action-to let the following events work up to a climax, accelerating from this deceleration.
    Shakespeare wittingly removes Horatio from the castle before the queen brings the news of Ophelia's death. He does it for creating an effect of unexpectedness on Hamlet by the name of his lovey as the deceased of the funeral; otherwise, the prince would react much less explosively to Laertes' rhetorical pathos in the grave of his sister. Hamlet has gone off the rails as it is, and he is bowled over by the news of the death of the second victim that his mistaken murder has entailed. All that he is shouting to Ophelia's brother is nothing else than his efforts to persuade Laertes and himself of the relativity of his guilt, as he felt such a love for the daughter of the father killed by him accidentally, without malice aforethought. Since he runs into difficulties with justifying himself in the case of his causeless and unaccountable murder, he flies into a fury at Laertes, who falls rabidly upon him, and they grapple with each other within the narrow pit that does not allow them to draw their swords and poniards. Only after Horatio has hauled them out of the grave, so to speak, by the scruff of the neck as two pugnacious urchins, can some guards pull Laertes back from the prince, while Horatio, standing between them, holds the brawlers apart.
    Unlike all my precursors in vivisecting the play, I asked myself the question of Horatio's role in the three episodes in the churchyard when he accompanies Hamlet after he meets with the prince "set naked" on the shore of the kingdom. From Hamlet's letter, read aloud by Horatio, we know about the adventures of the prince at sea, about his fight with pirates, his leap onto their ship, his captivity, and putting him ashore; and before those feats of valor, Hamlet unseals the king's envelope and fabricates a new letter with Claudius' forged signature and seal to substitute his own person for his two treacherous friends on the scaffold in England; therefore, he appears unsettled, in rags, and Horatio, again guarding him, leads him to Elsinore in a roundabout way through the cemetery, where they see a fresh grave. Both of them are in a state of blissful ignorance of Ophelia's death, and Horatio, understanding what a nervous strain his charge feels, has nothing against their tarrying in the calm of the still, sunny day and against a soothing talk with the sober-minded grave-diggers on an abstract mortuary subject.
    As soon as the funeral procession comes into sight, Horatio guesses who lies in the closed coffin (the drowned girl looks very unattractive, after all) and draws the prince aside, behind a bulky marble sepulcher towering beside the grassy hillock with a heap of the real earth excavated by the clowns on its top. Horatio foresees what a smashing blow the unintentional killer will receive a minute later, but he cannot preclude the inevitable; yet when Hamlet darts to the grave and bursts into wild assurances and oaths, obviously belated (which scares the king stepping back to his Swiss guard and amuses the churlish clowns watching the quarrel on the casket in the pit with their spades in readiness), Horatio interferes resolutely in the fight of two distraught avengers.
    And then, to the accompaniment of the lumps of clay rattling on the coffin and of the panting of the clowns throwing the earth with their spades into the grave, Hamlet, repenting of his blameworthy conduct in a fit of temper, tells Horatio about his substitution of Claudius' letter that was a death warrant for him and became a death penalty for the betrayers, as though apologizing to his teacher for his instability, and Horatio forgives him silently. By Osric's entrance, they already pass from the churchyard into a small study of the prince in the castle to change Hamlet's tattered dress.
    The primary task of a stage-director is to find some physical action for every actor in every episode and fragment, for things are sometimes the best partners. In particular, in the scene of Osric's invitation to a fencing competition, Hamlet is shocking this finicky prissy sprog with washing his face and trunk over a basin from a jug in Horatio's hands and with splashing water at the spruce young herald.
    Naturally, in the next episode, he dresses for a duel with Horatio's help, which is associated with dressing in armor before a battle with the help of an armor-bearer.
    *
    As to the final scene of the tragedy, it is incontrovertibly written with the hand of a true director, but still, I had a lot of work to arrange the most impressible realization of this perfect scheme.
    Every time, the throne-hall looked differently in its four scenes, turned at some other angle, and after the last turn, one could see a gallery of the family portraits hanging in a row across the stage there. The center of them was a prominent full-length portrait of Hamlet's father clad in the familiar suit of armor, while the scarlet dais of the thrones was situated on the right side of the gallery.
    Considering that Horatio suspects the king of an intention to ensnare Hamlet by this competition, he keeps close to the prince, and he is first who notices the blood of a scratch made by the sharp blade of Laertes' rapier. By a touch on Hamlet's shoulder, Horatio draws his attention to the evidence of the foul play and inaudibly says a pair of fencing terms to him.
    From this instance, we again see Hamlet enraged, but now it is the cold rage of a fighter.
    In a quick step forward, he makes a rapid spiral movement of his rapier round the sharpened blade and, having caught its point in a slit of the guard of his hilt, tears the rapier from the hand of his rival. By the second movement, he throws Laertes' weapon back, where Horatio picks it up; and by the third one, he hurls his rapier at the feet of Polonius' son.
    Horatio puts the pommel of the lethal steel in his open gloved palm, and Hamlet, whose eyes are riveted on the noble contestant, committed such a dastardly act, goes into a furious attack, in the end of which he makes a lunge concluding by a side thrust into the unprotected part of the abdomen of the receding duelist between the front and back parts of his defensive padded doublet.
    Laertes drops the useless rapier and dagger and, pressing his mortal wound with his hands, tries to explain why he has come to such baseness, but his legs give way and he falls on his knees and then on his face, while Hamlet is about to rush to the aid of his mother dying after her drink from the goblet with the poisoned wine concocted for her son.
    Now it was my go, and I did my utmost to strengthen Shakespeare's final of the play.
    Claudius leaps to his feet, shoving Gertrude's body down from the dais, and blasts the hunting horn swinging from his belt; yet Horatio's clarion-call sounds almost simultaneously.
    At once, the four representatives of the old guard, Marcellus, Bernardo, Voltimand, and Cornelius, slip out from behind the wall carpets towards some henchmen of the king bouncing out from behind the other tapestries, while the three king's "Switzers" step forward and shield the dais, bristled with halberds.
    For a fraction of a second, the two attacking camps stop short with their unsheathed blades. Then all the fighters issue a redoubled war-call as though switching on the violent rhythm of the battle that flares up in the hall.
    Horatio, going with his sword and long dagger ahead of Hamlet, attacks the Swiss trio dexterously and lethally. Having repelled aside the halberd of the central halberdier with his foil, he thrust his dagger home into the uncovered throat above the steel cuirass, pushes the falling body back on the Swiss standing on the left, and instantaneously, with one arched stroke of his sword from below upward, slashes the face of the right one from above slantwise between the upper and lower projections of the helmet.
    With a shrill, the second guard rolls down to the fighting fencers and dies wriggling and writhing on the floor. Meantime Horatio, covering himself with the first killed guard being held by him by the haft of the dagger sticking in the throat, jabs his foil over the shoulder of the agonizing halberdier into the bare neck of the third Swiss ducking to round the body and deliver a blow of his battle-axe.
    This butchery takes some seconds, and Horatio seems to explode the live shield from within, throwing the three bodyguards away from his way towards Claudius, who makes an attempt to put up resistance, but no longer than Horatio knocks out the king's sword with his two blades and seats the panic-stricken poisoner into one of the empty armchairs of the dais, the point of his foil pricking Claudius' double chin.
    And Hamlet following his preceptor surmounts a few stairs and, having swung the poisoned rapier above his head with his two hands, strikes with all his might, pinning the king to the back of the throne. Weakening, he pours the poisoned wine into the mouth of the choking fratricide in retribution for the double poisoning of his parents, whereas Horatio sounds his clarion to cease the hostilities between the Danes.
    While the fighters are dispersing, Hamlet, leaning on Horatio's arm and hardly dragging his feet along, approaches the portrait of the ghost and reaches out his lifted hands to the picture, as though embracing the legs of the armed knight. In the course of his last dialogue with Horatio, he gradually sinks on the knees of his inconsolable old friend again lulling the nursling going to his eternal rest, and only the march of Fortinbras' arrival forces Horatio to stand up, leaving Hamlet's motionless body under the portrait of his revenged father.
    Fortinbras enters the hall as a deferential guest, bearing his helmet on his bent left arm, and a pair of English Ambassadors lagging behind come in after him a minute later. The sight of the dead bodies lying around astounds this cheerful, fair-haired, sturdy fellow, who casts an eye over the battlefield from Hamlet to Claudius in the throne, listening to Horatio's explanation, and glances over the bodies of the queen and the three Swiss guards.
    As a professional militant, he sums up the situation at a glance and forthwith realizes what a surprise the fortune has brought him due to the death of all the members of the Royal Family of Denmark. Upon the entrance of the prim Englishmen, he suddenly utters an exultant yell and slings his helmet up at the vault of the castle, where henceforth he is a new ruler and sovereign. Then, already as a proprietor, he ascends the throne and pulls out the rapier from the chest of the killed king. Giving orders to the accompaniment of the increasing stamps of the top boots of his army rhythmically clanking the swords clashing against the shields round Elsinore, he spurns the impostor down from the dais and flops into the empty armchair in place of the corpse.
    In the falling darkness and swelling stomping, the outline of the figure of the portrait begins to glow with red light; meanwhile, Horatio makes for Hamlet's body across the hall plunging into the bloody swampy murk and genuflects before the dead prince. He unbuckles his sword and lays it on the breast of the fallen warrior, and it is seems, as I was saying, that the tragedy is finished when the first note of the angelic voice resounds in the rumbling depth of the war-flood.
    As if burning in the counter-light of the blinding shining illumining the reality of the illusory castle from behind, one after the other the wall carpets furl up and vanish somewhere in the heavens until the central radiantly-translucent portrait flies up, opening the emerging white shallop of the happy family of my epilogue sailing away in perpetuity to the resplendent infinity of the immortal hyperborean Paradise.
   
    SCENE 10
   
    To my regret, the little of the abovementioned ideas and solutions were fixed in writing, and I had my project only in some disjointed jottings or negligent drafts at best. If you are staging a play, you should think of what you create on the stage, not on the page, especially as your every day is fully occupied with diverse minutiae of such a creation.
    It may be advantageous for a creatively-impotent dabbler to expatiate about so-called "post-dramatic" theater, but the emergence of my profession is generally referred to the time of Queen Elizabeth, when it arose as an outcome of the requirement of the competing troupes to organize the action of performances more purposefully for carrying away the unrefined mixed crowd of the house and for making their impressions still stronger owing to the skillful placing of accents of sense. Afterwards, the auxiliary function developed into a separate art, and in 20-th century, the stage-director began to define both the concrete image of every production and all the senses and meanings of every play, whereupon he fancied himself possessing his own independent sphere of creation and mistook his domination for release from his obligations to theater.
    The poet piling up a senseless jumble of chaotic disconnected syllables thinks similarly and disregards his inalienable material in the same way, because all that the director has beyond dramaturgy and actors' natures are scenic effects and nothing more. Just as language and speech are discovering the potentialities of a writer, my two materials are the only real semantics of the realization of my talent, and each of them has its rules and methods of mastery. If I reject the very pith of theatrical art, I should leave the existing theater and go away either into sectarian experiments or into arrangement of happenings and entertainments. In the case that I am staging my spectacle without any play, I assume the role of playwright and cater inevitably to the mass tastes by my gimmicky constructions, since without the chief criterion of endowment and professionalism in theater, i.e. success, all theoretical verbiage is false, and all velleities are hopelessly jejune.
    In Hamlet, I was inclined to achieve a grandiose success, for I had all the necessary components in the aggregate. I mean, first of all, my cast of the play.
    The scope of Nickolas' abilities was certainly commensurate with my vision of Claudius, but with Mark, I never worked before then, and his preparedness to his part gladdened me. He had such an elusive natural quantity of his personality as sensitive intellectuality characteristic, despite prejudices, of many actors of his type being fond of the bottle; and with all his artistic susceptibility, he was in a good physical condition, striving to build his role with perfectionist's scrupulousness.
    They contrasted wonderfully: the sanguine vociferous king with white-toothed smile -who reproaches himself as a decent Christian for his unpardonable transgressions, yet vainly ransacks his soul in search of a glimmer of penitence, marveling at invincibility of his villainy with good-humored inveterate cynicism-and the educated well-trained sage, who struggles between the devil and the deep sea for his survival not only bodily but also in his spiritual life, seeking vengeance for the crime that has split his existence in two forever.
    And the line of the queen continually imparted some additional keenness to their hardly concealed enmity, with her inner alertness and wariness being perceptible under her nervous liveliness in the subtext of her cues and remarks appearing so platitudinous and unimportant without knowledge of the genuine motives of her behavior.
    Besides, my stately Horatio became the third chief figure of the tragedy on a level with Hamlet and Claudius; and he somehow cemented the whole action of the staging that acquired a pivotal personage staying before the public from the beginning to the end.
    In principle, I was quite satisfied with all my performers, though this satisfaction rather related to them as to the material of my shaping of their parts in everyday rehearsals than as to any results of my unrelenting strenuous efforts. During a month I had been sculpturing their characters, blending what I dreamt and what I had, and as the molding of the spectacle advanced, the rough skeletons of the images and episodes were getting covered with the flesh of concretizing and detailing, in which the blood of some formed relations and emotions was already beginning to pulse in more and more improving repetitions.
    What did it matter to me, therefore, that the autumn weather was changeably now rainy now sunny, adorning the town with the shedding gold of the crowns in the park behind the theater or washing off these light coins of leaves from the wet branches with the long rains turning into tedious grey drizzle among the black bare trees and into the rippled puddles of the square, which I waded through on my way from the guest two-roomed apartments of the local culture ministry to the Cyclopean bulging frontage of the tractor-like building.
    I usually cross the term of my staging out of my life, because the period when I am engrossed in my work always leaves a strange void in my tenacious memory where I keep only the whole production until the next one displaces it.
    It was spitting or bucketing down from the overcast or clear sky, and the dank weather was spreading the slush of its cold sprinkles and downpours over the noisy engine-roaring streets, but I recollected of the environment mostly in the minutes of brushing mud off my trousers or washing my boots spattered with mud.
    Every day I had such numerous tasks and problems that with my entrance through the stage door I forgot all about any life beyond the world of theater and plunged into the exigent matters of building my scenic universe, correlating, for example, the alignment of forces between Hamlet and my lanky Laertes for exacerbating the conflict of their conducts in the identical situation, or recommending my fascinating Ophelia to moderate her sex-appeal and enhance the tragedy of her unrealized passion with her naive notions of carnal intimacy.
    Creation in my profession implies rare patience and obstinacy in persisting in what I want to get in every point of my production, even if I never have just it in the issue. Not that it is a battle, yet I must struggle for the successful result everywhere and make headway step by step in spite of everything.
    In short, I had little by little reared my monumental three-hour show and set to the individual run-throughs in time, a week and half before the premiere, still continuing to work on the crowd scenes together with the choreographer and his assistances. I preferred to stage them separately, spending time on the students and supers without the principals, as it was a technical composing of group mise-en-scenes for the first fete, for the collective dance and reactions to the performance, for the mutiny, and for the final general fight; and after preparing the background, I could set the heroes in the mass action, not loading them with extra grueling preparatory work.
    In re-telling, the occupation of stage-director seems very despotic, but actually, every staging always depends on many people, among whom actors and actresses are the lesser evil in comparison with workshops of setting, ever too slow for mounting plays without hassles and undue anxiety.
    *
    This day I was distracted from the rehearsal just by my scenic designer, to cast a glance at the hues of color for painting the throne in the scenery shop. Having declared a ten minutes' recess, I went from the empty dark hall to the top storey, while my acting copy of the play was left lying under the lamp on my director's small table in the central aisle and my open shoulder bag-standing on the seat of the nearest stall of the sixth row.
    My approving of the right tone (and my answers to some incidental questions, as usual) took a bit more time; and after my return to the hall, I immediately resumed the run-through of the next episode, so I felt something wrong only when I thrust my hand mechanically into the bag for the cellular phone.
    For some reason, it was not in its side pocket, but on the bottom, which seemed strange to me, prone to certain pedantry in my habits; however, who would have rummaged in the bag of the director to call from his mobile without asking leave? It was even implausible, all the more as everyone had such a phone in private use, and no unauthorized persons might be admitted to the theater to loaf about in its building in daylight hours if there was no matinee there.
    No, I had laid it, most likely, by myself through my absent-mindedness, and my own slip awakened my groundless suspicions. Thereon I ceased nursing my persecution mania and reverted to the acting of my Hamlet in the scene of the bedchamber-to control how he was adjusting his tempestuousness to the thoroughly choreographed plastic of his movements.
    There was a performance in the evening, that's why I hadn't enough time to stop the run-through for any corrections, watching like an observer what we had gotten up to by now and marking the places that needed my comments for improvement. My professional wisdom proved itself as well in omitting the components subject to acceptance as it were-in view of its indissoluble connection with someone's individuality, whose peculiarities, far from being improvable, I simply used to my advantage in the general picture.
    Before the performance this evening, I was busy picking out some costumes fit to our production in company with the costume designer and one of the costumer in the large wardrobe encumbered with the long metal frames, on which hung a great number of hangers with theatrical clothes, not counting several imposing chests standing along the wall behind the rows of these frames fitted with castors for mobility.
    Probably, we would have known nothing about the unexpected event in the theater, but for the assistant producer that suddenly poked her ever-tousled head through the half-open door and asked us hurriedly whether someone saw Mark after the rehearsal.
    "What's the problem?" I broke her haste from afar. "Mark is late for the spectacle?"
    "Not only that," she informed briefly. "We can't find him, and his mobile doesn't answer. Then you didn't see him either."
    With that, she disappeared.
    "How often does it happen?" I inquired of the costume designer, a plain old-looking girl in a stylish parti-colored poncho. "I mean his lateness."
    "I cannot recollect any incident," she said perplexedly. "Yet he had a pair of reprimands for his coming squiffy. He did not spoil anything, but our daddy doesn't bear breaches of discipline."
    "Daddy" was Nickolas' nickname in the troupe. "Daddy" or "Dad".
    "Who likes that," I dropped, scrutinizing an embroidered doublet with a ruff collar and staring blankly at its gold embroidery, for a chill ran down my spine from a presentiment. "Well, let's wait for a continuation."
    Nonetheless, while sorting out costumes among the stock of the wardrobe I listened to the inner radio, which was always turned on everywhere in the theater. What I heard made my misgivings very ominous.
    Another actor was called out to replace the absentee, and the beginning was delayed without announcement until his arrival, though the public sitting in the hall murmured at the delay. Then the spectacle began after all, but Mark did not appear even later, when we ended our research and left the wardrobe mistress with a list of our demands for fitting, adjusting, and alterations.
    Here, in the corridor leading to the stage, I ran into Nickolas in the makeup of his personage tonight.
    "What news?" I asked him in passing.
    "Nothing," he growled out. "Tomorrow, I'll give him a bollocking."
    "Do you think he's gone on a bender?"
    "Certainly," he answered brusquely. "His girl-friend said he encountered one of his pals in the morning and intended to meet with him after the rehearsal. Presumably he'd celebrated his meeting superbly, drunken swine."
    "Anyway, he is our Hamlet," I tried to appease the enraged local demigod.
    "Don't fear, I'm not going to thrash the life out of him," Nickolas assured sarcastically, bending his steps towards his dressing room.
    *
    The boring fine rain was falling throughout the night, and I could not get to sleep in my double bed, lying with my open eyes upon its tough mattress under the silky quilt and gazing at the luminous door of the balcony behind the gauze portiere. This lurid glimmer of the neon sign glowing on the outside in the drizzly murkiness again and again irritated my drowsy consciousness, drilling my brain like a nagging pain, and if I had verbalized the quintessence of my angst, it would have been expressed in one word "death".
    Of course, as they say, fear hath a hundred eyes, so I rather anticipated the real events, preparing for the worst, but after those three previous incidents, the thought of a new catastrophe intruded itself into my mind and haunted my fevered imagination that was painting some hair-raising improbable variants of recent developments instilling terror into me.
    At long last, I jumped out of the bed and, wrapping myself in the blanket thrown over my shoulders, shuffled to the sideboard in the second room to take out the bottle of whisky bought by me in the duty-free of Ben Gurion Airport for the day of the premiere.
    "No," I muttered, screwing off the cap. "This staging must not miscarry. It would be the downright blasphemy of my fate against the god of art."
    At these words, I threw back my head and downed a good fifth of my liter vessel in one draught-to propitiate Apollo by my libation.
    "Don't be valetudinarian, old fellow," I reproached my vague reflection in the darkly gleaming mirror in the depth of the sideboard, putting my emergency ration on its shelf and feeling muzzy. "Nothing untoward happened. Go to bed and stop raving about Thanatos."
    And indeed, the universal panacea worked salutarily, and soon, I fell into a dreamless sleep till morning.
    In the theater, I came an hour earlier in order to call at the scenery shop, but the watchman said that Nickolas wanted me to drop into his office, and I turned from the entrance hall to the left, expecting to hear something unpleasing, yet hoping for God's mercy in the question of creation.
    My hopes were dashed at the sight of Nickolas' scowling face.
    "What?" I asked instead of "Good morning". "He's found?"
    "Yes," my king Nick threw me an angry look. "In morgue. The police telephoned us and asked-have we such an actor in our theater?"
    I was forced to sit down on the soft leather divan beside me, or else I would have fallen into a swoon and slumped right before the big writing table with a desk-set in the shape of a cast brave Cossack bragging of his saber and pike in the saddle of his prancing charger.
    "Accident?" I mumbled, overcoming my faintness.
    "Foolishness," Nickolas hurled a rightful accusation. "He'd swallowed too much of some hooch with high percentage of wood alcohol and died sitting drunk on the bench in the square. It is an ordinary misfortune in our days of mass counterfeits. Such a rot-gut with proprietary labels is selling in every supermarket."
    "What to do?" I whispered hoarsely, weakening from nausea and sudden dizziness, the presages of an impending stroke.
    "Whence I know, hang it all!" he snapped out, still being livid at his dead actor. "The premiere is appointed, and it must be after a week and half. It is impossible to study such a part within this term, even if I had another hero in my troupe."
    From his dismalness, I felt sick completely, but then it suddenly occurred to me that there is a ray of hope in our collapse.
    "Do rearrangement-and we shall have new Hamlet," I said to the sullen "Dad".
    "How? Explain," demanded my employer at once, devouring me distrustfully with his eyes from under the brows-what if the stage-director decided to dupe him for the director's fee.
    "Please," I made a wry face. "In a word, our Horatio formerly played the Prince of Denmark."
    "Really?" Nickolas started up at my information.
    "So he told me. Give me somebody for the part of Cornelius, and he will take the vacant place as Horatio, while Alex grows slightly younger."
    "Well, let's suppose. Do you think he is able to manage this work?"
    "I'll scarcely maintain that he's a natural for this part, but at present, he is the only one who is capable of learning its text by heart."
    "A fine argument, I'd say."
    Nevertheless, Nick lifted the receiver of the intercom.
    "Is Alexander in the theater yet? No? When he comes, send him to me. Urgently," he ordered drily.
    "Besides, Alex is jealous enough, and he even prompted Hamlet's hues to Mark," I remembered.
    "He's too old," sighed Nickolas, replacing the receiver. "You're right, though: we have no other recourse but his candidature. Again the prince will be a paunchy pensioner."
    "We can lace him up in a corset. More importantly, he is a good fencer and a great master of declamation."
    "And in his age, it will be his last chance to play Hamlet," grinned Nick (being one year younger than Alex was). "Then, indeed, the situation is still capable of improvement."
    Without a knock, the door opened, and our savior appeared in the office in his wet raincoat, which he should have left in the cloakroom.
    "Of Mark I heard," he began without any preamble. "What now? Cancellation?"
    "Consternation," Nickolas snubbed his talkative subordinate in his usual boorishly overbearing manner. "Be ready to play the title-role."
    "It's a joke?"
    The aging actor looked suspiciously at his chief.
    "It is shortage of labor," the chief cracked a joke actually. "Paul had a brainwave very timely, and today I shall sign my order about interchanging the parts. You become Hamlet; Cornelius takes your place. Any questions?"
    "Only one." At last, Alex made out what is going on. "Is the date of premiere valid as before?"
    "Naturally. We aren't so rich as to return tickets. Satisfied?"
    "Yes. I'd like to have a copy of the part as soon as possible."
    "At first, let's go and search the drawers of Mark's table in his makeup room," I offered, wishing to avoid any procrastination with receiving the copy and not to lose the time of my rehearsals.
    "Attaboy," approved Nickolas. "Keep me posted and come on. Go to it!"
    The door of the makeup room was unlocked, because Mark shared it with his three colleagues, including our Laertes, only just arrived.
    "Is it true?" he asked, motioning to us at one of four dressing tables with three-leaved looking glasses.
    "Too true," I nodded crossly. "Why the devil do you swill vodka so irresponsibly?"
    "Mark wasn't drunkard," he refuted my rebuke in some surprise. "And he would never dare over-indulge in spirits before performance."
    "Yet in this case he had a drop too much," Alex chimed in.
    "Very likely, he was poisoned by inadvertence. Otherwise he would have dragged himself to the theater in any nastiest state."
    "Highly probable that he had the bad luck to knock back only a pair of thimble-glasses-to friendship and such like," I proffered a conciliatory opinion. "But anyway, it was fatal for him, which necessitates our swapping horses in the midstream."
    Meantime Alex pulled out the top drawer of Mark's table and took out a pack of paper fastened with a clip.
    "I wonder how this conjecture came to your head."
    He slid the drawer into place and shook the sheets of Hamlet's part in the air.
    "Simple deduction," I answered. "Mark had neither bag nor briefcase, and he proposed to return here. There was no need to carry the part away. If it is too thumbed, we'll demand another copy."
    "What for? On the contrary, there are some notes somewhere-they may be useful to me for want of full-scale rehearsals," Alex said, turning over the pages covered with typescript. "By the way, there is a telephone number on the title-page. Perhaps it is the number of the one who was with Mark."
    He showed me the mentioned page.
    "Somebody's mobile," I observed.
    "Undoubtedly. But it looks somehow strange."
    "No matter. Hand it to Nick, and he'll connect to inquire who this subscriber is."
    I was just about to start for the hall when I suddenly recognized that the number reminds me of something.
    "Excuse me," I touched Alex's arm. "May I look at it once more? Thanks."
    Now I understood why the number was so strange.
    I drew my cellular out of my shoulder bag and collated the figures with the ones on its display.
    It was the mobile phone of Alice.
    "Maybe, coincidence," I thought, pressing the button of call.
    "Hi, Paul!" I heard her voice. "I'm busy at present. Anything happened?"
    "Nothing urgent. It's simply an accidental call. You're all right?"
    "Yes, of course."
    "Then I'll ring you after my return. Okay?"
    "Okay. Bye!"
    "Bye!"
    "What?" Alex asked. "Whose is this number?"
    "Of one girl in Israel. She is in my list, but I never gave Mark any telephone."
    "Do you mean he had snitched it?"
    "Yes, for some reason. It was yesterday, in all probability. The question is-with what object. Now, only his drinking companion could have answered to this question, if anybody."
    "Who will be searching for him? The police haven't enough time to investigate such a common death of some tippler."
    "If Mark telephoned, the numbers might be in his mobile. Though, I forgot, he was sitting senseless on the bench in the park."
    "I got you. Hobos and pilferers certainly cleaned out his pockets."
    "Beyond doubt. It does remain a mystery, but we should go and save our production. I wait for you in the hall and prepare your part for a short explanation to your substitute. See you soon, gentlemen."
    *
    To be honest, heaven delivered me a blow, which dumbfounded me to a kind of insensibility, as if I were stunned with a real smash of someone's fist into my face and could not come to myself after it, doing my job duly, yet without any emotions and extraneous thoughts, in the dreary mist of stupefaction and in the dull concentration of my horror-stricken consciousness unwillingly peeking out of the pupated confines of concrete tasks.
    Meanwhile, my soul had contracted into a numb tough core, impervious to impressions from outside and barren of expressions from itself, since all my further work was going superficially as regards fool-blooded artistic creativity, given that I did my utmost to reincarnate the former prince into the present one and impart stateliness to my new Horatio, who was somewhat cloddish and inelegant for his role of the personification of an ideal Renaissance lord.
    This baker's dozen of days might be called a feat of my adaptability to the critical conditions, begetting so many problems and tiring affairs every day that by night I felt exhausted and incapable of introspecting. All side issues, which might contain any point imperiling my staging, were set back into the farthermost recesses of my mind; of them, the excessively topical subject of putting a jinx on me was the most forbidden one.
    The chasm that gaped twice before me had become a yawning abyss around, menacing to engulf a tiny islet of my being, and the life of everybody included in my orbit was in jeopardy henceforth in every instant. The worst of it was that I could not foreknow, from what side the lurking fatality would deal me a knockdown blow of new death.
    I ever detested such surprises involving me in tragedies, for because of them my plans of staging certain plays might misfire, and I might miscalculate in my counting upon someone, so the succession of three mortal accidents within a not fully year plunged me into stupor. I was prostrate with the consternation sounded in Nickolas' quip, and I in essence sank into an emotional hibernation for a time, all the receptacles of my psyche hermetically occluded with my defensive deafness.
    Owing to everyday overstrain, I seemed to be suspended in the vacuum of spiritual non-existence as a clot of nightmare, acting almost mechanically in such an impassively paralyzed state and not burdening my exacting artistic nature with carping criticism at my newly-fledged Hamlet and Horatio, who were far from perfect and from my vision of their parts, to say the least. Perforce, I played the cards I had, or else I risked losing the entire card playing like an inexperienced gambler, while my fee was at stake, too, and I couldn't lose it on any account.
    I was absent at the civil funeral of Mark in the spacious vestibule of the front entrance of the theater looking onto the wet immense square; furthermore, I evaded participation in the modest repast in the artistic buffet after his burial somewhere in the impassable mud of the municipal cemetery, offering as an excuse my individual rehearsals with Alex on his monologues, which was the absolute truth, because now we were inseparable for all the free time between the run-throughs, and I would bid him farewell together with goodnight.
    Our supposition about petty thieves was corroborated by the reality: they not only emptied the pockets of the dying actor and swiped his mobile and wallet, except his theatrical identity card, but also stripped the fashionable jean coat from the dead-drunk duffer forsaken in the rain soaking him to the skin (paupers are devoid of shame and mercy).
    His table-companion disappeared without trace, and there was nowhere from we could get his personal data. Apparently, after his contact with Mark en route, he departed from the town-to survive his poisoning alone in the train or aircraft, knowing nothing of the death of his friend. Fake alcohol was so commonplace in Russia that nobody would have surmised what a diablerie caused these separate accidents, directly connected with me and, maybe, depended on my creative life cursed by that damnable suicide.
    The allotted time of the concluding stage flew by very quickly and nearly expired, so that after the lapse of a pair of days, I was obliged to bring my staging to the first night at all costs. Having no alternative, I girded up my loins with fetters of restraint, so to speak, and started driving my show forward, subduing my restive perfectionism and not interrupting the run-throughs, whatever inaccuracies and slips I saw.
    Dinning it into the performers' heads that they have no right to revise Shakespeare's text with their ad-libbing, I repeated time after time that if unluckily they muff the lines, they must go on playing and base themselves on the objectives of their action without lingering over such a boner. (The Stage Manager conducting the show was always ready to prompt, but the vastness of the stage absorbed sound in some degree, so it was better for the performers to count on their own memory.)
    Anyhow, it was my duty to fuse all the constituents of the production into a whole, into an oneness of some scenic world created by me as a demiurge uniting together all dissimilar components and miscellaneous materials of creation in the singleness of purpose of his imagination, never reaching the desideratum and ever discovering the unforeseen.
    With all its imperfections the spectacle was gradually shaping, notwithstanding that its prerequisites were often at variance with its actual results; but the dissonance between Hamlet's age and his behavior saddened me as before in its perceptibly decreasing incompleteness.
    Alex in truth endeavored to fulfill my expectations, and I numbered him among the best actors of the troupe, but he enacted a young man, not being young, while this point was essentially important for my conception, in according to which the bachelorhood of the prince in the university town preserved his youth in the emotional sphere and in his notions of chivalry and honor, though his intellect developed to the utmost extent, and in the abstract he knew very well how to act and what to do-up to his return to Elsinore for succeeding his father as king.
    I wanted to show all the process of his collision with the real world demanding another moral approach to his code of nobleness and dignity from him, and this central conflict implied his personal inexperience in some aspects of the mean life of the multitude.
    In other words, his heart was still not hardened with struggle and hardship; therefore, the public should have had to see him continually overcoming his vulnerability; while just it Alex was unable to display on the stage for reason of the peculiarities of his age that dictated their own reactions and reflexes, objectively true, but too impersonal for Hamlet's elemental nature-bursting the shackles of convention and being torn by sense of duty and loathing for bloody atrociousness.
    There are some nuances in the actor's art that become noticeable to the stage-director through their contrariety, and age is one of them, especially because this factor is a painfully delicate topic for the middle-aged actors, which constitute the top of every troupe and decide the vital question of offering job in the theater. It is understandable that I kept silent about such an incorrigible demerit of my only performer and supplicated the Most High for the premiere as such, with any defects and clangers.
    But even abiding by the circumstances, I was not willing to accept Alex's unwitting reproduction of the ingrained intonations from his former rendering of Hamlet that were showing through the thin coating of my direction when he slightly relaxed his attention in playing, which now and again slipped in for lack of rehearsal time. To redo the done is an ungrateful task per se, yet to try to do it in such a short stretch of time like a new year's matinee is a sure sign of being in the soup.
    However, I had no other option but to save the situation with the help of the one who could recite the verbose text of the role at all, irrespective of quality. I accepted that Alex was putting his whole soul into his acting, pronouncing his monologues for a wonder, without a hitch, and meeting my wishes technically; nonetheless, the content of his formal correctness was mine only to a certain extent, and to me he seemed a foreign body in my work and made me grit my teeth at the premiere in each of his episodes.
    In his scenes with Horatio, turgid and inexpressive, I lowered my eyes, burning with shame for my treatment of the parts, so discordant with the actor's nature, as though I had arrayed them in some disproportionate finery looking ludicrous on their figures, wherefore this "bagginess" rather discredited their merits than conduced to any exposure of their fortes to light. Both of them were evidence of my professional failure, and it was beyond my powers to explain to anyone why my staging turned out faulty in the very heart of my new solution of the great tragedy.
    For the discrepancy between solution and realization, I suffered alone, while the audience was receiving the new version of Hamlet very warmly, not excepting this apology for a prince (simply ridiculous in the key scene with Ophelia). Nobody perceived this, if one may say so, "rift in the lute" whenever Hamlet or Horatio entered, for the spectators thought, as usual, that they saw what had been designed by the theater, all the more because Nickolas was incredibly prompt in changing the cast for the playbill in the printing house (fortunately issuing such orders at the very last moment).
    As to a coterie of local critics, they were an endangered species nowadays and, besides, members of the regional branch of the Theater Union of RF, where our omnipresent Nick was the chairman; whence you would easily infer what sort of notices prevailed in the Sunday newspapers and tabloids next day: lauds and compliments in forms of shameless flatter for the most part.
    In respect of Claudius, their praises by no means were censurable, whereas all the mechanism of my staging indeed functioned without serious stoppages, producing a powerful impression on the public with its calculatedly built action, strengthened with its scenery, costumes, music, lighting, property, and effective mise-en-scenes, notably of mass movements and reactions.
    From the point of my stagecraft, I had gained an undoubted victory confirmed with long thunderous applause; but going from my seat by the exit in the hall to the side steps leading onto the stage full of the clapping happy participants of the spectacle, I felt no contentment from these ovations of a resounding success or shouts of acclamation in spite of all my smiles and bows.
    Without its two chief personages, the very nub of an idea was extracted from my interpretation, which turned into some painted hollow shell, lost the inner embryo of its sense. I could not deny that the sudden death of the second performer of my second long-awaited project had told on the production much more catastrophically and in effect killed its innovative pith.
    Although I kept up the common elation at the banquet after such a successful spectacle, escaped its inevitable collapse, I did not give in to the euphoria of my relaxing cheerful team while they were proposing toast after toast, carelessly swallowing vodka without regard to the state of health tomorrow, when they were to play the second premiere.
    I teetered on the edge of a nervous breakdown and feared to lose control for an instant lest I should howl, belching oaths and meaningless obscenities, on all fours like a lone wolf licking the gore of its mortal wound.
    Only in my dark rooms, I indulged myself in relaxation: having installed myself in a soft leather armchair in front of the black TV-screen, I opened the begun bottle and set to a solitary drinking-bout, refilling my big weighty glass with Scotch from time to time and disregarding any snack.
    Very soon, I began to talk with my alter ego aloud and conducted this conversation with increasing temper and decreasing coherence until I flew into a rage from the incontestable rightness of his arguments, for in accordance with them, I was condemned to persecution of fatality in all my artistic life, since the death befell just theater people.
    In anger, I took a gulp of whisky and snarled, clenching my teeth and muffledly ululating; hereupon I proceeded with my drinking, squirming under the evil sarcasm of my ineluctable fate executing the will of that vile prophet. Thus, when I switched off, the bottle was empty.
    Unsurprisingly that Sunday proved saturated with crapulence, and the beer I sipped throughout the day abated my headache, but not my dejection. I rather preferred to have a hangover and fall into despondency than to shout till I was blue in the face from my keen awareness of the inexorable doom that hung over my life.
    The chain of disasters could not be forged by Fate within this year unless some satanic powers of darkness had put my existence under their surveillance; and every touch of the hellish divinity destroyed one of the Pillars of Hercules of my artificial firmament, without which the heavens of art collapsed. For the present, I succeeded in rearing the missing support, though unequal, but what lay ahead very likely promised a change for the worse, judging from the progression of the harm done to me by the three deaths having neither connection nor resemblance except suddenness.
    Nevertheless, whatever dismal thoughts haunted my dull mind, I again and again lavished my beams on the applauding spectators and my greeting claps on the actors and actresses in the evening of the second triumph and assumed an air of contentment in reply to the surrounding congratulatory hustle behind the scenes.
    And by night, I was again drunk as a lord.
   
   
    ACT 4: "BOOK OF JOB"
   
    SCENE 11
   
    To Israel, I returned two days later, worn to a frazzle and gotten wealthier by my decent fee.
    As I got home at crack of dawn, it remained only to take a snooze for some time, and I sprawled on the resilient flat of our double thick mattress vacated by my grouchy-sleepy spouse already preparing for her working day.
    So early in the morning, she was uncommonly uncommunicative, but, truth be told, her present irritable unsociability was very convenient for me in my state of mind. We exchanged our news in a few words, and I pretended to be asleep, hoping she would not begin to make enquiries about my staging.
    Ultimately, it had been accomplished by me by pure luck: if Alex hadn't played the Prince of Denmark in his scenic past, we would have found nobody to succor us in our catastrophe. For all that, his Hamlet was the first stumbling block to reaching the fruition of my artistic conception in the generally passable production.
    Anyway, I left the spectacle behind to live its own life scarcely concerning me, yet the continuation of the weird story completely demoralized my spirit and deflated my Renaissance conceit, depreciating my former sober atheism and inculcating some antediluvian superstitions in my mind, for the succession of disasters defied explanation, within the bounds of the theory of probability at any rate.
    It was simply impossible to believe in this probability, and such coincidences had no reasonable substantiation, quite the contrary, there was a touch of premeditation in the sequence of events, as if some evil will were directing this play of my overthrow from the edge of an unpredictably opening precipice into despair.
    Admittedly, I was ideally corresponding to the character delineated by the Highest playwright for me for now, because I got timorous in such a degree that all my being trembled at the thought of the next swoop of the fateful harpies suddenly snatching a prey out of the gatherings of my associates in art. I had a prior arrangement with one Russian municipal theater for April to stage a comic musical for getting good box-office returns, but all my future projects were called in question by my presentiment of someone's inopportune unnatural death.
    Every arrow hit the target in close proximity to me and put out of action the most important figure of my game, so that I felt like a quarry of demons' hunt. Fear seemed to be festering in my soul, gnawing the subconscious and eroding my reason, and this suppuration, consuming my psycho, little by little made my ego a swelling abscess filled with pus of horror.
    In vain, I tried to catnap after Ann had ended her preparations and left for her teacher's work, as the seat of putrescence was pulsing with its decaying pulp, forcing my heart to palpitate erratically in insomnia. I was overwrought, and my nerves were so shattered that the slightest rustle banged on my brain like a peal of thunder.
    In the meantime, outside the window the large town was awakening with its usual noise, din, and hubbub: the catchy trills of some Hebrew orientally-sugary hit crashed out of a car, contending with some brutally shrieking band bashing out hard rock from someone's flat, and the energetic voluble citizens again started speaking-wrangling-kicking a row in their various languages-Hebrew-Russian-Arabic-English-French etc.-and in the local international billingsgate, squalling like one possessed.
    Swearing, I buried my head under two big pillows, turning over in bed and choking with indignation against the vociferous Jewry together with all human kind repulsively heinous for my raw-flayed impressionability.
    To cap my misfortunes, the ambient temperature in the street was about twenty seven degrees above zero by day (in November!), and I willy-nilly kept the sliding window of the bedroom open (for the conditioner, the weather was not really warm, but rather tepid by Israeli standards), therefore I heard every babbler chattering within the range of audibility and every rattle-trap rumbling along towards the nearest avenue, and these everyday sound effects made me fret and fume wakefully and unceasingly.
    Silently, I heaped abuse both on the Middle East and on the Russian Federation with their fidgety toilers and indiscriminate sots, who created an inferno of frenzy from my soul seething with powerless anger in the face of the unknown. I hated my abject fear, but I was sensible of some impending danger and had no notion of its origin.
    There was logicality in the separate incidents cleaving my life every time after the first deliberately-shocking death of that unlucky mediocrity, as though, with gloating vindictiveness, he strove posthumously to drag away the most gifted and significant of my comrades from their art into his grave somewhere in the cemetery of the provincial town of his residence in Russia. Mary, Joseph, and Mark were the greatest losses I could imagine in my professional career; and only by a miracle, I contrived to pull out my two key productions from the chasm of downfall gaping in the orchestra pit behind the footlights-in spite of the planking covering these pits in both the theaters.
    Nevertheless, the abysmal maw of continual apprehension was omnivorously open in the invisible subterranean underworld, whence the staring all-seeing eyes of the Father of lies were persistently fixed on me.
    It looked like stepping on boggy tussocks in the middle of a boundless morass, where every step might press a mossy patch caving in under the walker's weight into the mire swallowing him up, when nobody could extend even a straw to the drowning man-to clutch at it in the fetid swamp. All the reality of my life became a quagmire, and three of my friends had been sucked in by the marshy space that I did not hope to cross, for it had no tangible materiality or conceivable bounds and was wholly imaginary, bearing, however, such appalling fruits.
    I came to suspect that the scene of the repellent first death had served as a portal letting pass into the infinity of the transcendental, and that the hysterical note had conveyed me as Charon's ferry through this aperture into the cosmos of the other dimensions, in which I existed thenceforth; but as each of the deaths intervened in my affairs without any miraculous tricks, I deemed that it was nothing but a misadventure till these links got coupled into a chain.
    Now, I understood the fallaciousness of my former comprehension of the supernatural, yet my understanding was raising the precipitous steeps of the gloomy gorge of my hopelessness still higher, in contrast to the gay warm sunlight flooding the room and to the joyful warbles of the bothersome restless birds singing in the green crowns of the trees near our house.
    I was languishing from insuperable sleeplessness and pining for oblivion, but all my senses were too sensitive to outer irritants and did not let me break vigil over my unfathomable insight.
    In that washroom, I had overstepped the confines of my individual being and crossed the threshold of the other world, where the arbitrariness of the shades' malice reigned among the wanderers out of the land of the living after they took an imperceptible leap in the dark through a light of vision or a repercussion of hearing. Since then, my fortune was in the power of that lost soul chasing after me like a spectral rider of equestrian statute undetectable to the mortal eye, and this impalpable incorporeal chaser would shoot lethal arrows from the bow of his retribution at the chosen ones so as to inflict the hardest blows on me.
    A year ago, I was sure that heaven grants me a rare boon in the possibility of staging my two most desirable plays in one season; and at first, each of the productions seemed a realization of my long-standing innermost aspiration; but in the end, both of them turned out to be some ordeal I got to undergo through a sudden loss ruining what I had been creating during all my previous work.
    Regretfully, I could not confide my dismay to anybody in my family regarding the resumption of my artistic career in Russia as a whim yielding too poor a harvest in comparison with watchman's shifts in Israel-in view of their complete indifference to the world of art; and that was aggravated with their absolute incomprehension of my spiritual needs as an artist and with their typically-bourgeois haughtiness of achieved prosperity. I never had any illusion about finding "kindred spirits" among any "normal Philistines"; and if I were an actor, I would have held aloof in their society and avoided connecting my life with someone by Hymen's bonds, but as a director, I needed a breath of commonness between the periods of my absorption in theatrical activities, not foreseeing consequences of my compromise. But it's obvious to the meanest intelligence that my work was very estimable in Russia, and I wasn't so prescient as to prognosticate the contingency of my turning into "manpower" in future.
    At present, I was a sort of incubus to my "other half", with all my vocation, incongruous in this State and futile in that one in the matter of providing my folks in their present homeland; meanwhile, without theater I would have perished in the cesspit of my depression swarming with aversion to the non-creative laity and with hatred for both the countries humiliating my professional pride and putting me on a level with the nonprofessional masses.
    After three hours of turning and tossing in my sleepless doziness, my patience was exhausted, and my animosity against the intolerable noisy city-dwellers grew unbearable. I had to do something, or else my brain might explode with resentment against the total hostility of that damned objective reality oozing the sunlight, ruckus, delirium, and sense of frustration.
    Without opening my eyes covered with a handkerchief, I found by groping my cellular on the bedside table.
    I was still uncertain whether I had a right to load Alice with my neurasthenia or I must not have hurried until my nervousness abated a little. However, she was the only safety valve for my madness, and I decided, as they say, to explore the ground from this point. Anyway, I should be forced to adjourn the date till the evening, because, as far as I understood, she had gotten a job yet, and she, of course, was at work in the morning.
    Her mobile did not answer, or rather there was no telephone's signal from her number, as if she had switched off her cell phone.
    "Quite may be," I said to myself, though felt disquiet in my mystical mood. "Let's try later."
    Then I again endeavored to sink into a sleep, but all my attempts failed one after another. Instead of calming, I was growing only edgier and more jittery from the irksome row of the Levantine Gypsy encampment outside and from the recurring of my exasperating meditations consuming the remains of my judiciousness as I fathomed the bottomless deepness of God's odium I incurred by reading that ferocious curse, imprecated on me the destruction of my life from then on. If I had not learnt what detestation the infamously fired actor harbored against me, he would never have succeeded in imposing his vengeance on my being; but as soon as the bare wires of our two fates had come into contact, the circuit got closed and the high-tension current of requital started running in it, electrifying the atmosphere around and smiting the most prominent ones with the discharges of lightning incinerating my chief expectations.
    In the course of the day, I repeated my call thrice-with the same result. It must be owned, a certain suspicion crept into my thoughts, yet this premonition was too vague and elusive to define its essence, while my unfulfilled desire began to annoy me more and more demandingly, driving me to causeless ire over unattainability of the sole remedy for my bleeding lacerated soul burning with unendurable pain without a soothing balm.
    I so yearned for her sensual slim body and so missed her mordant felicitous remarks that I was ready to put up with all her bantering and twitting in exchange for her presence and for a new occasion to embrace her, not to mention the further straight talk of our joined flesh.
    Perhaps I was also under the influence of my long sex-starvation, but in either event, the more inaccessible was Alice today, the more urgent was my craving for her voice-eyes-lips-breasts and for her arms and legs enclasping my body in a fever of passion. I thirsted for meeting with my Elsie; otherwise, it was impossible to imagine how I should survive the next night in my rising nervous strain.
    Meantime the day was declining, and it was getting darker in the room, which foreshadowed the inescapable return of my wife from her work and the forthcoming blather of some trifles and rubbish infuriating me in advance.
    I already ate something twice between whiles, forgoing alcohol, though, afraid of uncontrolled riotousness in the state of intoxication; that's why I let the cold water out of the tap in the bathroom till the water heated in the solar boiler on the roof ran hot enough, and took a shower, standing in the bathtub behind the white oilskin curtain and still shivering under the nearly scalding gush gradually warming my chilly body.
    *
    An hour later, I left my flat and set out to the center of the town-to roam the streets aimlessly, waiting till the end of the working day. Whenever I telephoned Alice, every time I heard the same silence in my mobile; accordingly, I had no choice but to pay her a visit, even if I was an intrusive unbidden guest coming untimely.
    I walked on and on along the endless avenue connecting our borough with Tel Aviv as such, and the deafening roar of the engines of many cars and lorries rushing by slightly deadened my mental overstrain; yet soon, I turned toward the sea-to stray at random in the lanes of the residential quarters where I could seldom meet any passers-by-and my loneliness again exacerbated my morbid sensitivity and excitability.
    By that time, the warm daylight waned and gave way to the windy coolness of the falling darkness being dispersed with the diffuse soft light of the lampposts, whose inflamed light-shedding ichor was blurring the ominous ragged clouds scudding across the scowling night sky above this urban lambency.
    I thought I should have put on some clothes more appropriate for the autumn weather than my jean jacket. As any return home was undesirable this evening, I found it preferable to drop in at shops and supermarkets on my way over the town, for in the presence of people I felt quite normal-provided that nobody touched me with the aim of entering into communion or begging several shekels.
    There was ill-omened atmosphere everywhere, as it would be sometimes in winter when the weather altered before falls of volatile temperature and sudden rains, but the hour of ending work had come at last, therefore all the main streets and boulevards were full of the tired townsmen hurrying to the long buses, to the shining huge shop-windows, to the cozy cafes and bars, and to the rail stations. Amid their frenetic bustle and scurry, I involuntarily yielded to the general haste, quickening my pace in the throngs briskly moving in all directions along with streams of public and private transport in the quieting habitual noise hanging over the city.
    At length, I considered the time quite apposite for my visit and made for the nearest station, maneuvering among the lads and lassies in military uniform with big bags and holdalls in their hands and the heavy carbines or automatic-machines slung over their shoulders, who were going out from the urban military base named The Kirya occupying the whole quarter on the other side of the broad avenue, opposite the three silverfish many-windowed skyscrapers towering before the railway running through Tel Aviv.
    Omitting details, I will only say that about thirty minutes later, I was ascending the stairs to the garret of Elsie-to check if she was at home already.
    Since her doorbell rang in the empty space, I was forced to await her homecoming at the entrance like a wimpish milksop; and I just went downstairs when ran into one of the dwellers of the fourth storey opening his door at the landing.
    "Good evening!" I greeted him in Hebrew.
    He looked at me askance with familiar post-labor moroseness.
    "Speak Russian," he muttered, pulling his key out of the lock.
    "No problem," I said in Russian. "I'm an acquaintance of the girl from the attic, don't worry. She is absent at present, so I decided to wait for her down."
    "Then you still know nothing," he established the fact of my ignorance of something.
    I flinched inwardly.
    "What do you mean?"
    "I see you speak Hebrew," he marked instead of an answer with the same surliness. "Ask the host of the flat number two on the first floor. His name is Benny. I am not in the know."
    Hereupon he disappeared in his dwelling, and the heavy door slammed behind him.
    Everything unexpectedly swam before my eyes.
    I regained consciousness sitting on the tiled floor with my back against the handrail, though my faint-fit lasted no more than ten seconds. I instantly rose to my feet in amazement at such a weakness not characteristic of me, but I was coming down the steps somehow slowly, while my mind was realizing the horrifying perceptibility of an approaching catastrophe.
    Nonetheless, I must have received the information, whatever it might be, as I had come here.
    The one who opened the door looked like a Moroccan, and this stocky, swarthy, balding fellow, pretty jaded by evening, did not radiate cordiality either.
    "Hello! How are you?" I began in Hebrew in conformity with common form of politeness.
    "All right. What's the matter?" replied he inhospitably.
    "I'd like to know what an incident occurred in your house. One of my acquaintances lives here in the garret, and her mobile ceased working," I set forth the heart of the matter. "Maybe you can give me any information about it."
    "I can, yes," he took his eyes off my face. (A shudder of dread passed through me.) "She'll never ring you."
    "Why?"
    "She died some days ago," he said in an undertone. "In the late evening on Saturday. Poisoned with gas."
    "How?" I asked under my breath.
    "God knows how. Her neighbors from below smelt gas in the staircase and went up to clear up from whence it reeks. Her door was unlocked, though closed, and she was lying dead on her bed," he explained, from time to time giving me a sympathetic look. "One of her burners was on without fire, and the window was shut. The police say they haven't discovered any evidence of suicide or crime. There's neither note nor sign of robbery in her flat. She simply dozed off, watching TV. She put her coffeepot on the stove to brew coffee, and lay for a minute, apparently. Naturally, coffee boiled over and extinguished fire. But gas was turned on. Such a misfortune."
    He peered into my pale peaked face.
    "Feel unwell? I'll bring water?"
    "No, thanks," I mouthed. "I must go."
    "I am very sorry," he said.
    "Sorry to trouble you," I repeated mechanically.
    In response to my apology, he only heaved a sigh and closed the door.
    I was standing, gazing at the drab plate and seeing a blank wall.
    As a fading remote reverberation, a thought of the coincidence of this death with my premiere in that evening emerged, floundering, from the void in my soul for an instance and melted away like a tiny ice floe eaten with steaming sewage.
    In the semi-darkness of the lit narrow street, I wiped my sweaty forehead with my cold palm and headed for the train station towards the field or meadow of dry stubble.
    A string of the ochreously luminous street-lamps illumined the asphalt road leading across the dusky vastness to the distant zone of illumination round the parallelepiped-like, two-storied, flat-roofed building, straddled the railway double track running through the station under the passageway.
    There was nobody in the dark field, not counting a gaunt runner in a sport hoodie, an Ethiopian judging by appearance, who was jogging with earphones on his ears along the road.
    I walked after the runner, but turned aside halfway and strode straight into the gusty darkness, stumbling over some invisible hummocks and hollows and crunching the dense tangle of dry stems, until I tripped over a friable lump and tumbled down on the bristly grass smelling of hay.
    Here it came to pass that I did what I never expected of myself in any condition-I uttered a wild raucous cry.
    Or, to be more precise, it was a hoarse scream, a strident heartrending howl broken from the very bottom of my heart, a furious roar of anger and anguish appealed to the unmerciful heavens portending storm and disastrousness.
    And after I let out the first cry, I was already unable to restrain the further uproarious eruption of my incoherent violent shouts and wails: rolling in fury on the straw litter of stubble and beating the ground with my fists, I surrendered myself to despair, yelling blasphemous abuse and hurling curses at the heavenly host and the forces of darkness at once.
    To all appearances, this black despair somewhat clouded my mind, for some time of my fit escaped me. Only when my mobile phone rang did I come to my senses.
    Again being aware of my lying flat in the night field and simmering down, I thrust my hand into the pocket of my jean jacket and took out the ringing cellular with the number of my dear Ann on its shimmering display. Naturally, our conversation was going in a lapidary style.
    "Listen."
    "Where are you?"
    "In Tel Aviv."
    "When you return home?"
    "Within two hours."
    "No later, please."
    "Of course. It's an airing after sleep."
    "Good. I wait."
    "Bye."
    After that, I shoved the mobile back and got to my feet.
    The dry grass rustled in the fitful cold wind, and the bleary black silhouettes of many-headed disheveled thistles standing out against the dim glow of the railway station crackled from strong blasts.
    In the distance, beyond the tousled undulation of the desolate meadow, I saw the wavy gloomy outline of the eucalyptus grove and seemed to hear the flurry of the rubbing and flapping hard leaves flusteredly fluttering on the tossing branches in short squalls; but all that I wished now was to leave the murky space of the deserted field, and to find myself in the pitch-dark pandemonium of the wheezily spluttering thicket it would have meant the sixth death in one year.
    Though, in essence, that benighted wretch writhing in hysterics in the field of his lost battle had died then there, because the one who returned home was another man, if the word "man" could be applied to the empty husk of the past personality that still looked corporeally like Paul of bygone days.
    After that conniption fit, I had no soul anymore, and the vacuum yawning in lieu of it contained no feelings of my vitality and made all my thoughts meaningless.
    *
    By my arrival at my sole refuge in the world, I had reached the utmost imperturbability, but it would have been too optimistic to call my numbness alleviation, since I felt as if I were frozen inside, and the glacial state of my self resembled an iced volcano of unbearable pain, so the stiffness of my frost-bound emotions did not relieve my suffering in any degree.
    I had come to experience living one of Dante's hellish tortures that a disembodied spirit might be put to: for a few days after this evening, I bided in a fog as an icy epicenter of direness, stolidly indifferent to all events and people in my seclusion.
    Yet, having all the conditions to be a recluse in my small den-to rest lawfully after my well-paid staging, I eventually rallied from my post-stressful numbness and left my narrow divan-bed, unwashed and sullen.
    Being alone in the flat in the afternoon, I leisurely had a shower and lazily folded the divan in order to lie on it for reading, because I loathed all TV-programs and the Internet-news in my all-embracing nausea, and the very sounds of real life were an excruciating torment for my misanthropy.
    Chewing a piece of fresh lavash, I shambled up to my computer corner and stopped before the shelf with real (not electronic) books, staring at the spines of some works of fiction complementing my solid dictionaries-the weighty thick volumes taking the most part of the shelf, crammed in addition with such paper bricks as Ulysses by James Joyce and The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien survived my giving away our former voluminous library on the threshold of our repatriation.
    However, the only tome that I considered readable enough to dip into was The Tanakh in the original (The Old Testament in The Bible), and among its Hebrew books I was lackadaisically disposed to re-read the only one from Ketuvim (Writings), about the ordeal of Job righteous.
    Reading this story always wrung tears from the eyes of Leo Tolstoy, who identified himself with the poor pious zealot of devoutness undergoing such an undeserved chastisement from on high, though as to the count-lecher, his reprehensible fornication on oft-recurring occasions quite deserved a severe conviction by his own moral laws.
    Unlike such a remorseful sinner, I indulged in vices in harmony with my conscience, and by no means could I incur nemesis for my sins with my repentance as it would happen usually to all penitent possessors of excessive squeamishness; thus, the woe befallen me was in sooth akin to Job's.
    "What a blame lies at my door that I should be condemned to these losses?" I asked Heaven atrociously destroying all my property and family. "What a dispensation of Providence must I discover in the hail of blows showering down on me with no apparent cause or in the tribulation of some terrible injustice flouting my belief in the divinity of the universe? Why have I brought down God's wrath on me-by what misdemeanor or misconduct?"
    Let's even assume it was really unfair of me to withdraw Max from the rehearsals of the role being beyond his capacity as a dramatic actor, what corpus delicti might be established to charge me with anything? Such is an imperative rule of my art-to derive the utmost benefit of my staging from the given material inclusive of the performers of the parts, and Max wasn't the best candidature, not to say harsher words.
    Perhaps, from the point of moral criterions, I had committed an indecent deed, but by Melpomene, I was absolved of all my sins conducing to improvement in the artistic quality of my spectacle, while I always preferred rather to be in her good graces than to atone for my human iniquity at the expense of the favorableness of this possessive and vindictive muse. The Almighty would render evil for good if the laws of common mundane morality extended to masters of the stage, for in theater one must too often act against these laws for avoidance of the action to the detriment of one's work.
    Of course, I was very far from blessing God's name at every sudden slash of Death scythe, and every stroke of Fate knocked me down into spontaneous blasphemy; nonetheless, my deplorable story in a sense resembled Job's tragedy, as all bolts also smote me from the blue and without any guilt. He held firmly to his belief in God's ultimate rightness and could not accept as his due the disasters betiding him, whereas my mind was declining to recognize God's arbitrariness as a judgment of the supreme reason, from which I received my just deserts.
    In Hebrew, the impressive simplicity of the narration affected me particularly deeply, seeing that I was easily imagining what Job felt when, one after another, some messengers came to him and brought their news, from bad to worse, of the assaults and the stealing of his herds of cattle, she-asses, and camels, of the consuming of his flocks of sheep by God's fire, and at last, of the death of his ten children under the wreckage of the house collapsed from an unexpected gale.
    I was reading the book as if it were the plot of a scriptwriter subject to staging; and at once, I noted the curious construction of the introductory part serving in effect as a short prologue of the following many-paged dispute of Job sufferer and his judicious friends.
    After some general information about Job's life, there goes the first episode in the heavens: Yahweh boasts of Job before one of God's sons and sets up him as a model of righteousness on earth, meanwhile this son, Satan, remarks skeptically that it is not difficult to be such a goody with God's care, provoking the father to entrust His power over Job to the doubtful sonny for the trial, whose blows begin to rain down immediately.
    The losses of his livestock and kids prove insufficient for Job's piety and his worshipping, that is why in the second episode of the celestial sphere the great doubter obtains the right to do harm to the very flesh of the devout victim. In consequence of this permission of the heavenly patron, Job, covered all over with suppurating sores, is sitting among the ashes and scraping his scabs with a potsherd. With all that, he refuses his wife's offer to renounce his God and die, arguing this by necessity of receiving both good and evil at the hands of God.
    Then his three compassionate friends, not recognizing the god-fearing outcast, appear on the scene and engage him in three-act dialogue, whereupon he is forced to oppose the admonitions and appeals of each of them with rare stubbornness; but I shall linger a little on the prologue to underscore the double character of the summit of the deities deciding Job's fate.
    If it were a solitary instance, the reader would certainly forget in the course of the long discussion that the origin of the abrupt reduction of the blessed upright believer to the adversity of his sorry plight is just his God. Twice Yahweh surrenders His pet to Satan's disposal to demonstrate Job's merits by passing through the trial of his steadfastness in the extremities of his mental and bodily anguish, and so we naturally await the third time during the succeeding confabulation.
    Meantime the controversy over God's will and obedience to fatality is lasting from the discourse of the first of the three faithful to the angry reproof of the last one, which just creates the needful tension of the whole action and prepares the appearance of The Most High in its culmination with His exhorting speech, ending, however, with the acknowledgement of the rightness of Job's position.
    Because I was reading the story not for the first time and had no difficulty in the right interpretation of its specific Hebrew, the indignation of the innocent embodiment of impeccability against the flagrant violation of the very principles of God's justice moved me to tears, too, arousing my comradely compassion, for I also fell a prey to an unknown concatenation of circumstances, which was undermining the spiritual buttress of my faith, so that henceforth I was vested with the only right-to endure the defenselessness of my vulnerability in the face of the all-powerful violator above imperiling my life throughout in every point.
    Stark naked and miserable, I was exposed to the implacable influence of some ruthless eerie omnipotence, and in vain I tried to descry any discernable islet of hope in the infinity of its impervious oceanic abyss suddenly sending out the rays of invisible radiation that ruined my milieu.
    Like Job, I continued to protest my innocence from my vale of tears and objected to being requited like this for my faithfulness in my calling, while the realization of my own insignificance for the dour Supreme Being swaying the realm of ubiquitous fortuity and happenstance made me weep again and again whenever my ill-starred scruffy double raised his resentful voice against the hateful persuaders inducing him in various ways to reconcile to the destiny of a martyr and resign himself to the crushing demolition of his self-delusion.
    To judge from how eager they were, convincing him of his faultiness and fallacy in his perception of the world, they ever envied his happiness, opulence, and prosperity, and now his overthrow gave them an opportunity for gloating over the causeless crash of all his idyllic harmony under the pretext of minding his erring conceited soul fallen into an egregious error concerning its independent self-appraisal in the totality of God's fateful predestination that demanded submissive acceptance of one's lot in any case.
    Still, being too unprotected, like Job, to obviate danger and evade the blows of my fate, I never lived blindfold, and I saw something wrong in such a course of events or even espied some malice aforethought among these reversals of fortune, any justification of which I was absolutely unable to agree with.
    What was my guilt, and by what offence had I deserved to be so cruelly treated? If the very notion of God implied some sensible regulation of the cosmic chaos and some spiritual element introducing a certain order into the savage instincts of the fell brutality of human kind, then it was quite reasonable to presume that the equity must have been laid as the basis for our morality-with the object of turning into a dominant law of society in the remote future; and the imperfection of this earthly life notwithstanding, just it was supposed to be the highest guiding principle of our Lord in respect of the godlike creatures, notably those of the godly and worshipful chosen ones.
    Otherwise, it is all the same to the ordinary mortals whether the omniscient Creator oversees them or not, when anyhow they are no more than playthings of Fate and chips of Wheel of Fortune.
    No, no, against the generally accepted opinion, it was not Job's loyalty to his religious creed that Yahweh had permitted Satan to try, but his feeling for difference between right and wrong.
    In actuality, the God of Israel did not change His attitude to His favorite, and He was sure that Job would pass the exam and never count his humiliating hardship a meaningless escapade of his Demiurge repudiating the authority of His own laws of justice to trample on the inmost beliefs of the assiduous follower of the Ten Commandments.
    Job trusted in God and took all the rewards of Providence for granted; he was used to thriving in affluence and living in clover; therefore, when he, who only just was so flourishing, rich, and content, unexpectedly found himself among the ashes of his suddenly crumbled life, he wanted to hear God's explanation of this turn and know the reason of this smashing defeat of his existence, or else his lifelong connection with God would be essentially a worthless illusion in the arrant absurdity of the soulless space.
    He also caught some logic in the strange concentration of the avalanche of misfortunes on him, since his catastrophe was neither natural calamity nor the devastation of any war. He could not escape the feeling that he was deliberately singled out as an object for bombarding him with misadventures. He was ravaged by a conflagration and by the forays of some troops at once; a stormy squall bereft him of all his sons and daughters at one and the same time; his illness struck him wholly without any incubation period or initial stages. Hence, he concluded that he dealt with premeditation, not with an unfortunate concurrence of events.
    Then query, why does his sole Judge impose this penalty upon him, and what is the reason that Elohim uses some forces of nature purposefully for destroying Job's magnificence, wealth, and calmness?
    Envy never numbered among the attributes of his Absolute, while only his enviable good luck might cause such unpitying ferocity in the extermination of his blessedness, and just envious malice is perceptible in the intentional nullification of his life and in bringing his zeal to naught.
    No doubt, Job's assiduity in making sacrifices to Yahweh is a witness to his archaic narrow view of the Maker of the universe, but it would be sacrilege to deride his convictions, inasmuch as there were many religions and cults in mankind, and my deification of the Moloch of art hardly looked much better for a detached observer. So-called "eternal verities" are rather from certain locutions of imagery, meanwhile the suffering of the dedicated believers of different gods and confessions is indeed eternal, and their woes are consonant with each other. Even if Job's behavior and immolation are in keeping with his olden times, the outrageous ingratitude of the present God sending down grievous afflictions on the blameless head of the staunchest devotee hurts him as before and injures his feelings as unendurably as in the distant past.
    Together with the hero of the book, I was expostulating about illogical victimization with my divine persecutor, giving all my accusers an outright denial of my sin adequate to such a severe punishment, in spite of my hopeless understanding that it was useless to debate how far I had gone in my wickedness when the firmament already became an immense magnifying glass incinerating me with a fiery shaft of its pointedly focused retribution. Prostrated with God's injustice, I was transfixed with this heavenly spear of doom burning me to cinder and ashes, but my dauntless spirit was glaring in reply with its own flame of my unanswered question blazing in my soul, and my mind revolted at the groundlessness of the refined execution of my supercilious prosecutor, resistant to all entreat and taciturn with a convict sentenced to his auto-da-fe without a chance to expiate the guilt of his unperceived inadvertent heresy.
    And here, God responds at last to the obstinacy of the unyielding seeker of the rightness and appears unimaginable once again to make a speech "out of the whirlwind".
    In other words, this tornado springs up all of a sudden, and this stentorian peremptory voice, putting an end to the altercation of the embittered disputants, launches straight away into a florid oration magniloquently extolling Yahweh omnipotent to the skies.
    The solemnity of God's verbose self-advertisement is slightly flagging for the contemporary naturalists in the passage picturing the mythical behemoth and leviathan, exaggeratedly swollen in their hideous monstrosity into two personification of dreadfulness, but on the whole, the edifying harangue of the Judaic Thunderer fulminating against Job's overestimation of the independence of his judgment really produces a tremendous impression on the reader, not to mention the four then listeners (missing out the purport of the homily of the unseen Everlasting somewhat prevaricating about the actual reasons of Job's tragedy).
    And after God has expanded His reproach into the all-encompassing panorama of His might and knocked Job off his perch, we should expect Yahweh to lay a penance on the restive sufferer repenting by now "in dust and ashes" before the greatness of the Ruler of the universe being embodied by description in his mind's eyes; however, God's verdict sounds very enigmatically: the three opponents must give the chief controversialist their donations (seven bulls and seven rams each for offering) as they spoke erroneously to God, unlike Job propitiated Yahweh by his attitude. Then Job immediately regains his former luck with blessing of God and recovers both his health and losses with an additional fortune and new children-to wax still more prosperous and live in abundance and happiness.
    "Why so?" one might ask. "Why they are wrong, and Job is right?"
    "Why?" I was asking the Most High of Moses retrieving Job's prosperity after he had humbled himself before the primary source of his rightness. "Why doesn't God approve the fatality of His own will?"
    The insight of the answer struck me like a flash of lightning.
    It was so clear and obvious that only my obtuseness accounted for the seeming obscurity of this answer.
    Yet I was not the sole dimwit in the given question, because even Carl Gustav Jung attributed Job's martyrdom in his essay to the perfidious and willful nature of Yahweh, and the great discoverer of archetypes had thus confused the God of Israel with the Israelites in their long breathtaking and hair-raising history.
    All the readers overlook one important thing, i.e. the conditions of the trial.
    It is stipulated that it will be Satan who lowers Job into the hell of his deprivation by God's authority; and although the opinionated pitiable pawn cannot know how this mysterious personage is implicated in the collapse of his life, his sensitive righteousness winces and shudders at every touch of some prevailing unholy evil, so alien to him, that decries as preposterous any just approach to his godliness. That is why he intuits the connection of his catastrophe with the will of some backstage malefactor involved in the regulation of eventualities in place of his real God. He, of course, only surmises that such a substitution has happened, as his faith is still too pristine to word his conjecture distinctly enough, but the poignant sensation of wrongness is haunting him and obsessing his soul insulted by the defiant intrusion of evil on the ordered land of his famous generosity and cordiality.
    Let's revert to the focal point of God's argument in favor of Job as a man exemplifying the most unshakeable belief in God. What does it mean? Why Yahweh does not hesitate to empower Satan to torment Job to His heart's content? (True the angelic creatures may have no heart at all.)
    Clearly because Yahweh has not a shadow of doubt that Satan (whose outlook is pervaded with a mistrust of the human race, and who considers it frail and corrupt) will never succeed in breaking Job's spirit, so this trial will be a lesson to the disappointed wayward son of God.
    It is not the first time when the onus of the decisive responsibility is laid upon one of our species. For example, Noah walking with God had been chosen as the last positive exemplar among the dissipated descendants of the old Adam and Eve to save, neither more nor less, all the animal world created by the Lord God ere He blazed with wrath over the self-willed viciousness of the intractable posterity after His sonnies began to carry on with the beautiful daughters of humans and gave birth to the mighty heroes, never existed hitherto and known as the Nephilim. By virtue of the general moral corruption, God conceived an idea of wiping it off the face of the earth with the Flood on account of the unplumbed depths of their depravity; and earlier, it was incumbent upon our biblical primogenitor to give names to all the newborn things.
    In short, Yahweh handed Satan His best believer as a touchstone intended to prove God's presence in man's soul. The question is what does this very presence consist in; and it dawned on me that the sternness of the Creator telling off Job (who jibs instinctively at acknowledging God's imperfection) was softened not by his contrition, but by the ideal adjustment of his sense of right and wrong.
    Job's moral sensitivity is in tune with God's polyphony, and the fire of his inner torch is of the same nature that the radiance of God's all-seeing sight. His luminary seemed to be overshadowed with the murkiness of some ineffable and inexplicable chaos, but yet, no gruesomeness could extinguish his fire lighting his comprehension and realization, which, strictly speaking, his Lord just wanted to present to the distrustful checker, with His usual inherent ability of prevision.
    Accordingly, as it followed from my mental revelation, Job was rewarded for his unique religious perspicacity that had enabled his unexpressed divination preventing him from recognizing the triumph of evil arbitrariness as God's will.
    To sum up, God had not missed the excellent opportunity to make certain of the accuracy of the spiritual tuning fork in the best specimen of homo sapience created in His own image and likeness and to teach Satan at the same time to see people differently.
    That is, the book sort of suggested the acute readers of the story that they should have imitated Job's virtues and relied on themselves like him in their estimations of some quirks of fate.
    By the by, insofar as I was able to believe in any ulterior motive of the hostility besetting me with misfortunes during a year, this recommendation likewise applied to me.
   
    SCENE 12
   
    I got up and set the black tome of The Tanakh back into its empty gap on the shelf.
    Unfortunately, I could not trust in God nor believe in any wisdom of Providence. All that I had was the inscrutable sequence of the four accidental deaths after one suicide, and each was a mortal blow at one of my weak points, as though all of them were indeed aimed by some modern Satan at definite targets. Only I knew no Satan on Earth but human being.
    Unexpectedly, a strange thought hit me.
    Or rather, it was a faint resemblance of thought vaguely stirred in my mind, a bleary nebula of thought emerging from the interstellar darkness of the infinite space of my brain.
    It looked as if some sensors of my analytical intellect had sensed an associative interconnection of all these misadventures; and what was more, the fatal incidents of my reality had the same features that the events of the two plays staged by me.
    Apparently, while meditating on Job's fate I brushed in passing against some fibers of my own self that was responding now in an artistic way with an echoing reverberation of my mixed images, allusions, and reminiscences.
    Somewhere in my memory, I detected the first presages of perspicuity issuing from the mutual comparison of the fictional and the real, though I could hardly ascertain what was establishing this odd linkage between such remote happenings save whimsicality of my imagination.
    It seemed to me that the uncanny mysterious selection of the merciless Prince of darkness wreaking havoc on my life bespoke some theatrical sources of the flashy surprises, arranged precisely at a crucial moment to ruin what was built before-with the timeliness appalling me to the last degree.
    I was not an investigator or a detective, so I had no notion how to tackle this problem if I did not pretend to analyze the nefarious schemes of the Evil One in a logical way (as I negated any existence of the Devil in the world), yet my thoughts were revolving around that, and I saw no method to get shut of my importunate analogies but to commit them to writing-just as I did at the stage of preparing for every production when such a recording of my separate observations and intuitive visions was gradually becoming a scaffolding for the building of my new staging.
    So then, what constituted the gist of the topic? Why did my reason rebel against assuming any natural succession of disasters in my course of events likening me to Job? Which of intangible ideas did suggest the necessity of recollecting-restoring-reliving those awful vicissitudes of fate, indelible and inauspicious?
    Surely, it was some suspicious dubiousness in the naturalness of each of these deaths; some maggot of incertitude eating away the plausibility of accidentalness from inside like the worm of remorse gnawing away at the soul of a contrite sinner; some faint inkling of inchoate doubt about veridicality permeating all my impressions little by little. If so, I must have groped after truth and found every snag of such a kind in every variant of decease.
    For the time being, I had deferred my investigation of Max's suicide until the end of the complete clarification of the other cases, as his death was more or less explicable and understandable.
    Having immured myself in my diminutive armored study by nightfall, I reclined on my folded divan, too short for me in width, and opened my working block-note for my jottings in the process of reviewing all the catastrophes.
    At first, I tried to formulate what details had staggered me when I beheld the mutilated body of my best actress at the foot of the snowy slope in that urban ravine.
    Her broken neck. I had thought then that this helpless pose did not square with the acrobatic stunts Mary did in her role on the stage.
    Apart from turning cartwheel in the episode where she was showing her excellent form before the inertly-melancholy marriageable girl, she-in conclusion of her scene of employing a pseudo-tragic paraphrase of the brazen-faced cajolery borrowed from one of the heroines of Maupassant to keep her boyishly infatuated writer in their cohabitation palled on him-suddenly jumped onto the bench standing at the long wooden table, and then onto the very table, and went tripping along it, throwing her skirt up in a sort of cancan.
    It was, as it were, some continuation of the hilarious dance of her Bohemian youth from the antecedent episode with her ungifted son-suicide envying her successfulness and repudiating the forms of her professional art, too exorbitant for his impotence in creation; and in this way, she was tempting Trigorin anew with her provocative independent dissipation.
    After that, she was able to leap from the table onto the barrier of the balustrade and stop there, keeping balance on the narrow banisters above the water of the surrounding lake like young romantic lass spreading her arms-wings before flying.
    It stands to reason that Trigorin hurried to offer her his hand, but anyway, only Mary could remain in equilibrium at the height of the second-storied verandah, whereas Arkadina number two confined her boldness to the ascent onto the steady furniture and did not venture to do the same.
    I decided to scrutinize the situation in the more searching enquiry, for the slope was nowise precipitous to imagine Mary stumbling and tumbling down its steepness, as it might be deduced from the consequences of her fall.
    Well, she possibly slipped on the ice. Even so, she supposedly fell on the snow of the upper part of the slope. Why would she have rolled down over her head, then? How had she gathered enough momentum to take such a header? (A running jump I left out of account.)
    True, there was a version of a car going into a skid and pushing her off the pavement, or of some scumbag swollen with venom, who gave her a shove, passing by. Perhaps I a bit hastened to arrogate myself an extraordinary capability of penetrating the real designs of Fate, yet in the context I had at present, I was obliged to heed all inconsiderable incongruity and oddness in the picture of that accident seeming dubious to me for some reason.
    I could be sure of one thing I inferred from my meditation on the aggregate of facts: Mary would have avoided falling on her neck if she were alone at the moment of her stumble; and strange to say, I fancied just her as the seagull shot dead by the offended mediocrity, not the ambitious young debutante entering upon a career of actress.
    Here I caught some inexplicit meaning of the question arisen in my mind, and its indefinite elusiveness took the shape of an interrogative sentence.
    It was what I asked many times in my rehearsals of The Seagull, because the answer was the essential characteristic of the central personage, explaining the very psychological pith of the incompatibility between the two beginning young artists; especially as without this explanation any interpretation of the play went astray, leading the stage-director to certain mistaken conclusions about the young pair of antipodes.
    It was beyond my grasp why I had thought so; nonetheless, nothing but this answer suddenly turned out in the spotlight as a clarification of my own tale of woe despite its exclusively concrete specialty.
    "Why did Treplieff kill the seagull?" such was the question.
    Needless to say, since my staging of the play, I had a detailed comprehensive elucidation in this connection; the holdup was in understanding in what regard could my then solutions be to the adversity besieging me. For the present, I failed to see it-even with the indirect prompt of my artistic brain.
    What the devil might mean his causeless killing of some bird for my comprehension of all the incidents that came about subsequently?
    In all likelihood, first I should have found the solution to the pivotal question of determining the peculiarities of these deaths arousing suspicion, notwithstanding that all the facts were not susceptible of proof, and I had nothing to be guided by, exclusive of some notorious "evil will" perceptible in the consistency of unfolding this satanic plot.
    Being unable to fathom Satan's designs in the case of Mary's fall for want of evidence, I passed to Joseph's apoplectic fit, although his quite natural death did not look suspicious and had its long prehistory in his hypertension ere he died before my very eyes. But it was a link of chain, which put it in one row with the other cases, that's why I had to consider all the circumstances of our last meeting in the sunlit space of the square in the stifling heat of that day.
    What strange had I noticed then in his appearance, except his red face? As though nothing. Maybe, I'd mark that fresh scratch on his forearm. Where could he scratch himself in the open place? Let's suppose, something sharp grazed his arm when he sauntered up and down among the spectators gathering at the entrance. Then there is a possibility that someone wounded him intentionally. Who did it and for what purpose?
    No, it would be rather senseless to ask that, and the only question relevant to the situation of a probable crime was "how". How had somebody nameless contrived to send Joseph to kingdom come in the presence of others and in such a way that it was impossible to suspect a murder in his sudden stroke? In that case, the criminal very likely used his apoplexy and somehow still more increased his blood pressure.
    By the by, a scratch once figured in one murder being committed publicly yet concealedly-in the scene of the fencing competition of Hamlet, where it just cost the prince his life.
    Now I understood what was associated with the previous recollection in my memory, and the association instantly brought my guess. In effect, it was enough to make a superficial incision with a blade dipped in some specific drug (or it might be a needle) for provoking a fit, provided that the drug left no vestige in the blood of a victim.
    Besides, the one who did it ought to have known about Joseph's liability to jumps of pressure and prepared some evaporating poison to inject it by the instrumentality, say, of a tiny syringe. Or no, such a jab would have attracted attention, while the purpose of the trick consisted in disguising a murder as a fatal issue of illness. And if the drug was so strong as to act deadly through a slight cut, it must have acted at once, mustn't it? No, I undoubtedly missed out something so noticeable that I did not attach importance to this action, or object, or subject.
    Wait, comrades! How could I forget!
    What do you say about that tourist in sunglasses? While gadding around the town he was by the Cameri Theater in the first evening and greeted Joseph when we were just talking about his hypertonia; hence, he was in the picture and had time to prepare for the subtle device by his second visit to the theater.
    It passed my understanding who was this habitué of local entertainments, but if he did plan to kill Joseph for the reason of some personal enmity, for instance, he seized the opportunity to nick the arm surreptitiously with some poisoned edge, which produced a rush of blood to the head and, naturally, an urgent need to take a pill; meanwhile, the same drug was certainly dissolved in the water of that bottle handed to Joseph by my own hands. After such drinking, the dose really became lethal for the poor critic, and the abrupt increase of his blood pressure entailed a hemorrhage in his brain.
    Was it, however, capable of proof? Negative answer. A man of his age is often ailing, and his health is usually failing, so small wonder that the elderly sometimes die from the afflictions of the old age.
    Well, even if this story was no more than my supposition, I managed to solve one of the mysteries and corroborated my hunch about "evil will". Forsooth, events conspired against me owing to some actual conspiracy, impersonally disclosed now by my reconstruction of such a perfect murder; and if it was the truth, then I chanced to glimpse the culprit of one accident at least. Whether he devised the other misadventures or not I hadn't a dog's chance to learn, but the very appearance of some villain in flesh and blood in the only episode implied that the rot set in.
    In other words, any unexpectedness seemed shady to me after my present investigation when I resumed my revision of the apparent suddenness of the following deaths, keeping it in my head that Mary's death might be also a crime of some passer-by.
    Yes, of course, I had not an alleged murderer, and I still didn't beg to state that someone actually killed those four ones who died so suddenly in this year, yet my hypothesis required a scrupulous examination to be demonstrated or refuted; therefore, I was forced to re-run the film of my memory again and again, trying in my speculation to catch some new meanings of the details of each catastrophe.
    *
    What significant could I unearth, for example, from my impressions of the day of Mark's death?
    First of all, the telephone number of Elsie written on the title page of his part. It was extremely cryptic why the number became necessary to Mark who never talked with me about my life in Israel; yet I rather guessed how he had procured it. Beyond doubt, it was just he who rummaged in my bag in my absence in the break of the rehearsals in the day of his disappearance.
    He took out my mobile and copied her number from my list-it was a proven fact, so I was interested to know why on earth he chose her name in the list where she was registered in English without her surname. Whence had he learnt about her existence at all, and what had impelled him to this risky deed, taking into consideration that he might be caught in the act at any moment and have an inevitable scandal.
    And how was his strange curiosity linked with his death some hours later? (Let's assume that such a connection existed.) As it was said, he died after his meeting with some friend; they had a spree in all probability; but, maybe, the friend treated him to a goblet of poisoned wine as Claudius in Hamlet, except that he drank wood alcohol instead of wine. Then for what reason he was killed? If he in truth extracted Alice's number from my cell in the day of his death, and Elsie died after a week on Saturday in the evening of my premiere, how should I understand this order of events?
    Nobody knew about my clandestine liaison not only in the theater or in Russia but also in Israel, so that Mark simply had no sources of information to learn who was she, except, perhaps, his sinister friend, who had asked him, if so, to do a service. Then the anonymous miscreant had to do with my affairs in Tel Aviv in summer, on the assumption that he might watch me together with her within the range of hearing and was acquainted with me.
    If that bearded playgoer was really the poisoner of Joseph, he twice listened in on our conversations, and the unknown friend regaling Mark with deadly poison was none other than he who loitered about near us at the square before the Habima Theater when the kind of our relations already left no doubt.
    Nonetheless, he would never have committed a murder for mere secrecy, unless he planned to take her life, too, though I did not think that the liquidation of my only Hamlet before the premiere was an auxiliary action. On the contrary, as I saw it, the idea of obtaining her telephone number occurred to him incidentally while he invited Mark to meet. He suddenly realized how to sting me to the quick in my private life and begged a favor of him. (Always assuming that my deduction wasn't pure invention and this plotter acted behind it all in reality, not in my creative imagination).
    And another thing. That shaggy rotter said "good evening" to Joseph in the first meeting, whichever contact he had with the respectable critic before; and he was Russian-speaking; thus, he might be connected with the theatrical sphere in the past or in the present, otherwise why he would hang about at such get-togethers.
    However, as to Alice, she moved in publishing circles and dealt with printing-houses and proof sheets. Besides, she belonged to a peculiar type of women of 25-65 years prevalent in Tel Aviv nowadays: dark-complexioned from the Middle East sun and mainly having dyed blonde hair; scrawny and withered; independent and sarcastic; done their military service and leading a single life as opposed to the docile religious wives "being fruitful and multiplying" from their early marriages; habituated to be in the swim and cope unassisted with all problems; treating the sterner sex according to its value at a given moment and usually smoking like a chimney (thank God, with Alice I missed smelling the odoriferous reek of tobacco, so familiar to me from my work in theaters).
    In short, the evildoer needed her number because he knew nothing but her name and nursed hope to do me as much harm as he could. Apparently, to deprive me of my loved one was his cherished desire after he had done all in his power to spoil my chances of success and struck superstitious fear into my soul by those separate mortal accidents.
    Properly speaking, it was just Alice's death that had planted a seed of doubt in my mind, for I was puzzled with one thing not corresponding to her habits.
    She could not endure closing the window when the weather allowed cooling the air without conditioner. I was even worried about public moral state in the heat of our noisily ecstatic intercourses ejecting some unambiguously voluptuous sounds through the open jalousie and the doorway to her section of the roof under a wooden pergola canopy.
    There was no denying that the closed window and balcony door provided the perfect backdrop for an accidental tragedy of gas poisoning, but her being shut up in such a warm season seemed very unusual to my watchfulness.
    "By the way, what temperature was in our region on Saturday?" I turned back the weather forecasts in the calendar of my cellular phone.
    No, that evening was warm enough, and if she had no suicidal intention, she would never have denied herself the delight to lie down in a draught in front her goggle box, considering her love for fresh air after a week of poring over typescripts and galleys in office hours. Consequently, she was shut up in her room by the scoundrel, who had come to her, say, on the specious plea of handing some parcel from Russia for her or for her father.
    He possibly used a chloroformed handkerchief to lay her insensible on the sofa. Then he had closed tight both the door and window and turned on the gas burner under a coffeepot-to wait till the boiling coffee brimmed over on the fire and extinguish it. After that, he retired from the flat filling with gas, and Alice was dying cooped up inside, inhaling the noxious air. Thus, we have the fourth perfect murder without any evidence.
    Overall, he faked up all the deaths irreproachably and scaled the heights of his murderous skill in the last case, but for all that, I marked his presence in each of his crimes. I only wondered who that was, and why he did it, since "why" might indicate "who".
    Without my staging of Hamlet I would scarcely have had enough wit to call in question the objective fatality that had caused the death of my fascinating mistress, yet now, I couldn't but feel the resemblance of two situations of this dying in sleep, and it made no difference what poison was used for finishing a sleeping victim under cover of accidental death. As soon as I remembered Claudius instilling his poison into the ear of his brother-king caught napping, I saw Alice slumbering in the excessively coincident circumstances despite the unlocked entrance door of her garret.
    Presumably, she was going to look in at the grocery (again opening only at the end of the local Sabbath) or wanted to go by train to Tel Aviv after a short visit of the guest, whom she agreed to meet with at home to take the parcel (when the public transport again began to run in Saturday evening); and I found some contrariety in her conduct in both variants. In the first, she would have left the window open; in the second, she would have come out together with her visitor in order to hasten their parting, so she had no time for making coffee and watching TV.
    Anyway, the official version of the accident by no means tallied with that of mine, although I was wittingly disarmed beforehand to produce any proof of my conviction. Regrettably, without a real criminal, I had nobody to charge with murders; ergo I must have pondered every supposition, however unbelievable my hypothesizing might look at first sight.
    *
    What in particular claims attention in the two plays as some attribute that one has in common with another?
    In The Seagull and in Hamlet likewise the authors resort to the dramatic device "the play-within-a-play", withal this performance is a decisive factor in the whole action of these two masterpieces of dramaturgy.
    Chekhov gives his young heroine an opportunity to embark on a real struggle for her artistic vocation with the help of the ridiculously bombastic text of her part, through which she manages to transmit the ardency of her outstanding talent and her longing for love to the chosen spectators having the connections influential enough to facilitate her entrance on the professional scene. The effectiveness of her acting is such that this declamation provokes the defiantly offensive remarks of Arkadina deeply hurting her son-dramatist, who breaks the dangerous show at once (albeit too late).
    Shakespeare's Hamlet in essence stages a new version of some famous tragedy so as to adapt it to his object of trapping his uncle and ascertaining the fact of Claudius' guiltiness. His successful checking ends with the fury of the king also breaking the spectacle unmasking the crowned murderer, whereupon their relations take a turn for their mutual hatred and, so to speak, lying in wait for the sworn enemy-to take him unawares.
    The performance is a turning point of both the plays, only the English consummate actor and director places it in the middle of his plot, while the Russian playwright-innovator sets his romantic travesty of decadent style in the beginning of his drama, meaning to repeat an excerpt of the highfalutin monologue of the ludicrously-tragic "World Soul" in the end-for comparison between the initial gifted amateurishness of Nina's histrionics at the start and her stagecraft as an actress after the crucible of entering the artistic profession (and for closing the action in a circle of the perennial replacement of artists in the art disregarding all obtrusive outsiders like Treplieff).
    As yet I could hardly formulate my precognition, but these theatrical productions had some similarity to the showy character of my story, for each of the misfortunes befell me somehow in due time, just at the point of my uttermost unreadiness, as though deliberately knocking a foundation-stone out of the masonry of the new palace of my hopes to cause its collapse. Every time I found myself on the brink of ruining the tower of Babel erected by me, and I spared no effort to support it by means of all available props until the last edifice of my self-assurance crumbled to dust in the same evening when I seemed to keep my chief staging from precipitating into the catastrophe.
    Some offstage director was implementing a devilish scheme of driving me into a corner of despair so that I should realize to what extent I became a protagonist of the plot leading me to its tragic outcome. As the play still lasted, the final lay ahead in the terrifying future; and since the last victim was not related to theater, the following ones might be caught out from my private life or even from my family. Now that I had experienced the loss like that, I began to comprehend the purposeful direction of the role foisted on me by a grim schemer stopping at nothing for the fulfillment of an infernally intricate and cruel plan.
    The uniting trait of all these cases of hitting the target was the definiteness of their addressee being brought to bay, to wit, of your humble servant, which implied the hostility of a bitter enemy that could hypothetically be at odds with me in former times. Mentally, many a one would have craved revenge among those who once came into contact with me in my direction or lovemaking, seeing that I was seldom indisputably honest with men and women in both the fields of battle, but agree that imagination and reality considerably differ in this matter.
    Such a psychopath as Max could, of course, lay hands on himself before my coming to combine suicide and vengeance; but to organize four murders looking like accidents in two towns of Russia and here in Israel, the criminal must have been endowed with cold-bloodedness and self-possession and with rare inventiveness at that; meanwhile, the monstrosity of the whole enterprise bordered on schizophrenic mania. The freak had the heart steeled against pity and enough patience to lurk and ambush a defenseless prey; therefore, I could nowise regard my pursuer as a hysterically impulsive subject.
    I think the avenger watched for the opportunity to spoil my work via the Internet, where the information of all new productions and their stage-directors in Russian theaters was accessible to everybody. It was undoubtedly a denizen of that country with its specific life, too obscure and dangerous for any foreigner, because there was little difficulty to act in Israel amid Russian-speaking citizens; however, no Israeli was able to remain inconspicuous in alien surroundings in my native land.
    Besides, this incognito went under the name of Mark's friend, and he probably was no stranger to stage arts, considering that virtually every artistic nature had this distinguishing feature (let's call it an excusable foible) of brooding over various insults, real and imaginary. Nevertheless, there was a great distance between unfriendliness and hatred, and no inclination to airing grievances could explain the commission of four homicides for the sake of someone's satisfaction.
    Thus, the psychological portrait of that undercover maniac was more or less composed, showing the cast of mind of a certain personality, for whom the cause for reacting did not signify so much as the very reaction, and who treated real live people as personages of a puppet-play.
    When I drew a line under my analysis, I was shocked above all by the easiness of his approach to solving the task of revenge on me by dint of murder, as against those innocent victims the murderer harbored no grudge-they simply turned up at the right time in the course of the implementation of his or her preliminary project.
    This bastard might conceivably be offended by me when I staged one of the plays after resuming my activities as a director in Russia, for he heard about my repatriation in Israel; but I failed to recollect any suitable candidature, forasmuch as my work on the next staging always displaced the earlier one, and the copious impressions of new urgency again and again dislodged my old memories without remainder. Such was a kind of self-renewal of my creative apparatus, without which I could not attain its complete tuning for being fully occupied with the particularity of the given production.
    When I came to engage in preparation for the spectacle succeeding my already released creation, my brain began to make a clean sweep of itself, vacating its useful space for the following filling; whereas after every premiere, my retentive memory was ready to empty anew, while I received as a keepsake only the inferior film of my scenic triumph that I never had wish to see once more afterwards.
    So, I was powerless to find any case among my recollections except Max, whose appearance in Tel Aviv had reminded me of our transient collaboration, and whose posthumous declaration in Jerusalem had showed all the seriousness of his attitude to that episode of duping a temporary substitute.
    Although Max himself was not on the agenda, his individuality rather embodied the type of such touchiness that might beget this crazy scheme of vengeance for the wrong done him by throwing his talent into the discard or by blasting his hopes together with blighting his career.
    In my work with the acting fraternity, I regularly resorted to a method of dangling a carrot in front of my fillies and stallions-to increase their gait velocity; and so no wonder that occasionally, an artist had a hang-up about the crying belittling of his value in the cruel objectivity, grumbling how unjustly was he outflanked with "mediocrities", and what parts he should have played according to his aptness and suitability.
    Yes, I sinned more than once against clemency and compassion to actor's vulnerability in the interests of my staging with all my tactics of buttering up performers in order to lure them into the process of creating their roles, for as is well known you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. But everyone who ventured to become a professional actor had some notions of his dependence on chance and fortune, and he was adult enough to envisage using him as an element and material of building shows. And if anyone really suffered so much under the yoke of creative coercion, all malcontents were quite free to leave the troupe for playing what they wanted of their own accord in private theatrical concerns or even to re-qualify into artistes as an alternative variant.
    For my part, I would also acquiesce in many parameters of my direction and go along with many qualities of a concrete cast in my work, swallowing my pride and perfectionism for attainment of results, since our art appertains to a category of collective struggle for individual success, and it is very far from being idyllic.
    *
    Well, let's suppose he was an actor.
    That narrowed the field of search and gave a prompt how I could unravel the conundrum of motivation of a nutty punisher paying off old scores by murders of my most valuable comrades.
    Then the question of my staging, "Why did Treplieff kill the seagull?" was indeed germane to the issue, as the answer to it just contained the aforementioned motives.
    In brief, my then verdict reads thus, "Because of his creative impotence"; and in its concise form, I would limit my explanation to some underlying causes of his behavior.
    Our unrecognized genius brings a dead white bird to the girl disappointed by the failure of his playlet, where she has performed the title role, hoping to show herself in his performance to those two celebrities; and he says, "I was base enough to kill today this seagull", acknowledging that the bird is shot by him for no reason. Questionless, the reason impelling him to shoot at the poor seagull exists, and it is not only his malice against Nina and his mother (being aggravated in addition with his childish desire to annoy both of them) if you keep in mind that the author deliberately draws a parallel between the girl and the bird throughout the play.
    In a word, this shot actually wishes to kill too free a girl, that is why he kills the free bird symbolizing his beloved flying away from him; and desiring to cause his mammy pain, he shoots at himself out of spite.
    The point, my dear friends, is that a gifted artist is able to prove his potentialities to himself, taking solace in his genuine masterpieces, unlike a talentless mediocrity who cannot feel his importance otherwise than in recognition of others. The latter asserts his uncommonness solely in the external world, reacting to any rejection by hatred and vindictiveness and instinctively detesting all talented creators en masse and asunder. (I could observe such instinctiveness many times with my own eyes of a viewer in the behavior of multitudinous literary men and editors in the socialistic system of sharing the limited publishing by the members of the official union of soviet writers, whose not disinterested cohesion supplanted and chucked out all budding newcomers into outcasts.)
    As regards committing suicide, tell me why Hamlet meditates on its desirability so frequently, but does not commit it, while Treplieff is so predisposed to suicidal escapades that he goes and blows out his brain.
    Because such a demarche presents the last argument of an ungifted vainglorious individual dispirited with the futility of his efforts to soar skywards to perfection.
    The Danish infant prodigy has too many gifts and tasks in reality to depart this life of his own free will, whereas the Russian weak-spirited unfortunate having pretension to artistic abilities for dramaturgy and prose involuntarily discloses only the feebleness of his creativeness and his incapability to be an artist by his works. Therefore, after Nina's nostalgic parting recitation of the text of his playlet (torn by him to shreds in reply to its flop) unintentionally displays all the ridiculousness of his magnum opus for him, nothing remains in this world to confirm his genius, and his unbearable umbrage at God, and mother, and humanity pushes him into using his shot-gun against himself once again-to prove the uniqueness and exceptionality of his individuality indemonstrable in literary writings.
    Alack, to have claims to greatness in art in sweet dreams does not necessarily signify to be great as an artist in real works.
    Thus the suicide of a creative weakling, though it is an act of despair, serves as a proof of his incomparability with the common people, or rather with the despicable philistines and lucky hacks, smug and prosperous in their platitudinous ideas and trite artistry, to whom he opposes his tragic striving for the unattainable and the unearthly, scorning the art of their poverty-stricken imagination.
    The substitution of fulfillment for intention is what the laymen are wont to exploit as a substantiation of their spiritual superiority juxtaposed with the vulgar banality of all factual achievements of the professionals ever tussling with the endless local problems of their concrete tasks and solutions in their advancement to the final whole of every creation.
    A true artist may, naturally, overwork in his endeavor, and at times he hastens to meet his Maker from overstrain and exhaustion, but his purpose is always realization, even if unsuccessful and imperfect. However relentlessly the conditions of his existence tries to cripple his talent, he struggles to become himself despite everything, because he is some original substance from birth, in contradistinction to the one who has innate commonplaces in his very nature, and who can certainly find lots of secondary impressions and reverberations in his soul, yet being no more than reflecting emptiness in his attempts of making masterpieces, be he a vegetating obscure epigone or a go-getting time-server reaping laurels as a lackey of the authorities or as a knave of some bizarre sort of "modern art".
    Treplieff had been gazing into his emptiness too long, that's why the obvious graphomania of his best text, recited by Nina after the lapse of two years, was in fact the last straw in his self-distrust. He could win neither her heart in love nor her affection in literature in view of his ill-starred ineligibility for both these spheres; and his sudden insight into his own nothingness had such an effect on him that his fatal shot was inevitable sooner or later, just as it had happened to another nonentity in Jerusalem, for after the loss of his theatrical profession, Max apparently lost heart and sense of life as well.
    *
    It was far into the night when I blundered upon this association.
    I saw that sordid corridor in my mind's eye-and suddenly understood that something was not quite right in that place. Some details not arousing my suspicion then owing to my succeeding shock at the sight of the ghastliness of the scene in the dark bathroom. As I remembered all this now, I marked one factor that had not drawn my attention in those circumstances in my then state of stupefaction.
    Semi-darkness. I could not put on the electric light in that pantry-lavatory, while the dull lighting of the dim bulb from the corridor was too weak to light up the gruesome picture distinctly enough, though there were two more lamps above the tarnished mirror of the washbasin in addition to a ceiling frosted glass pancake.
    And moreover-the virginal snow of the path in the yard. Hence, it was clear that he did not leave his abode in that day in spite of his telephone assertions. That is, he was likely busy with preparation for suicide, awaiting only my call for its commission.
    Here, reconstructing the situation of my finding Max's corpse, I stumbled upon my thought of some stagy ostentation of that bloodcurdling sight with the prone dead body impaled on a Roman javelin on all fours.
    The pose of the comedian, bent down in his blood, looked excessively impressive, as if the suicide postured for show and escaped any death-agony. I was not an expert in convulsions of the dying, but it appeared strange to me that the deceased had stiffened so sculpturally, without falling and writhing on the floor. At present, I asked myself why I was so convinced that I really saw the dead man there, and not the staging of his untimely end.
    It might be that I was purposely deceived by him with intent to strike his name off the list of the suspects in the future so as to do me evil with impunity. Then the origin of all the crimes was the evil will of this avenger with his failure rankling in his perverted mind, and I had the true culprit in place of an abstract criminal.
    Making such an assumption, I was not insured against an error, but for want of anything better, I should have borne out my conjecture. The question was how could I carry out my project without having Max's data save the address of that damned flat in the quarter of old development.
    Well, there was no problem to visit Jerusalem tomorrow. However, he lived in that rented accommodation almost a year ago, so it would be rather difficult to make inquiries about him, as the flat was very likely leased by other tenants.
    Apart from his dwelling-place, I should have connected with the actress, with whom my Hamlet shacked up-to question her closely on the subject of that mysterious friend and, maybe, pick up some new information or some suggestive details at least.
    With that, I unexpectedly fell asleep upon the folded divan, the open block-note lying on my chest, because by then, I stayed awake too long and even my strength of will had its limits.
    *
    Next day, I betook myself to the first capital of Israel.
    As buses ran there at interval of ten minutes, I spent no more than an hour and a half on my journey.
    I was indisposed to feast my eyes on the ordinary landscapes along the highroad, such as the lime-stone stratified rocks of the bulging hill-sides and the pine copses of their afforested areas; I mainly thought about the alternation of Arabic villages and Jewish settlements in dangerous closeness on the threshold of the forthcoming delimitation after the impending separation of Palestine as an independent state.
    The dividing of Jerusalem was predestined, too, and I did not imagine what could come of such dividing, recalling how I used to be a guest at my acquaintances living in the east part seceding from Israel.
    The irony of it was that the overwhelming majority of the "Russian" repatriates (in point of fact, "soviet") arrived at the Promised Land in quest of stability and peace-just to get into the never-ending local strife of two nations pretending to one territory, which, to regret, directly regarded them seldom if ever belonging to Zionists or to adherents of Orthodox Judaism.
    True, the resonant explosions of Caucasian terrorists in the land of the exodus somewhat equalized their former country with the present one shaking them by Islamic explosions in buses. As a direct participant, I knew this firsthand, and after each of the terroristic acts in Tel Aviv, I always telephoned the members of my family-to be sure that they were unhurt.
    I need hardly tell you that my rounds on watchman's shifts would get more frequent in these periods of the exacerbation of intertribal tension. Furthermore, even in public transport I kept vigilance against suspicious subjects, for the holster with a pistol Jericho was included in the equipment of my uniform ever since I had taken a course of armed guards. Of course, the acquiring of a gun license had required time and payment, but it yielded a return in form of wage increase and raised both my value for potential employers and their demand for my service.
    Anyway, everybody must bear responsibility for every free choice, and it is useless to shift it to someone else if the irreversible situation may be reparable only by means of adapting to the conditions of this new life. Those who have enough will-power to improve the unseemly miserable positions will try to do their utmost to reach some higher rung of social scale like me; those who give way to passive lamentations will never have a chance of changing status quo to amend the script of Fate. In the whirligig of life in Israel, all of us had ample opportunity for knowing the correctness of these truisms and axioms from experience to make an issue of it.
    Sunk in such sad thoughts, I alighted from the tramcar that had conveyed me from the Central bus station to the Central market, and went down one of the side narrow streets along the roofed parallel stall rows towards the transverse thoroughfare, on the other side of which I could come downstairs exactly to that quarter. Soon, I again stopped before the rusted metal fence of the familiar courtyard with the silvery corrugated walls of a low shed.
    The brown entrance door was shut, and I decided to watch from afar for a while, waiting until some dweller of this cement hut appeared on the outside, because I was afraid of turning a meeting with Max (if he was alive, our second encounter might be in the offing) into "assault and battery" entailing the unavoidable intervention of the police. Then everything in my possible plans would have gone haywire, for, as you can guess, to give him a thrashing was not what I wanted to commit.
    So I made for the grocery store at the corner of the crossing of three half-pedestrian lanes, as there was a plastic quadrangular table there, with two chairs by it for the customers wishing to take some refreshment in the open.
    Having bought a bottle of beer, I sat down at this empty grey table so that I could see the lattice wicket-gate of that rusty fence, and prepared to beguile the time with sipping Goldstar at my observation post.
    But I had barely taken a sip when the steel latch clanked in the stillness of the sunny noon; and instead of any man, I saw a comparatively young girl coming out onto the street.
    Outwardly, she was one of number of secular students or artistic Bohemians, since in addition to her shiny scarlet high-boots, grass-green breeches, egg-yellow baggy chlamys, and loosely wound, long, parti-colored scarf, she bore her dark frizzy hair rippling over her shoulders after the fashion of daughters of Zion in contrast to Arabic black hijabs or wigs of religious Jewesses.
    While she was walking to the crossing-to turn to the left to the stone steps leading upwards-I had time to rise from the table with my beer and cross her way.
    "Good day, my beauty," I greeted her politely in Hebrew. "Can I talk to you?"
    "About what?"
    She looked at me with lawful suspicion-aren't I an aging dangler flirting with her.
    "No, no, it is about that pretty cottage which you've left just now," I stilled her suspicions. "Are you its landlady or tenant?"
    "Suppose the latter," she answered reluctantly. "What's it to you?"
    "One pal gave me this address as his dwelling-place," I explained nonchalantly. "True I met with him a year ago."
    "I don't know who lived here before us," she said with evident relief. "We are renting this barn from January, and we didn't see our predecessors."
    "Maybe, you heard something about him?" I asked as though in passing. "For example, the owner of your mansion told you."
    She shrugged her shoulders under the silkily soft roll of her scarf.
    "Nothing and never. I'm sorry."
    "Perhaps there were rumors about some accidents? Say, it was one in the home. No?"
    "Yes. I mean "no"."
    "Okay, thanks for everything."
    "You're welcome."
    "I hope I was not very intruding."
    "Not in the least."
    "That's fine. Cheerio!"
    "Bye-bye, sir."
    She proceeded to the stone stairs, while I returned unsatisfied to my bottle to think the uncertainty over after my failed attempt.
    No doubt, I could have gotten to the very possessor of their flat, yet I would have risked being either implicated in the case of Max (if he, indeed, had committed that bloody deed) or brought to light in my search and in my knowledge of his being alive (if this proprietor was privy to his affairs).
    "Now then," I said to myself, sipping the beer out of my bottle in the sufficiently warm sunlight of our November, "I should ascertain who Mark's crony is, for this friend regaled him too amicably."
    There was no need to bother Nickolas with my petty problems, distracting him from his incessant managing of the troupe and staff, as the telephone of Alex still remained in my cellular after our continual intercourse during the week of his transformation into the Prince of Denmark.
    Alex's mobile was on, hence I concluded that I did not break into his rehearsal or work on the stage.
    "I listen to you, Paul," I heard his sonorous velvety baritone (slightly savoring of affectation at the height of the pathos of his high-flown monologues to my ears). "Anything pressing?"
    "Not very," I answered. "Are you busy?"
    "Almost. Ten minutes I have."
    "That's enough," I assured him. "I need the telephone of that actress who lived with Mark."
    "Ellen? Wait, I'll glance at my list." Here ensued a short pause. "Okay, write it."
    He dictated the number, and I wrote it down on the last page in my small jotter I ever carried with me in the inner pocket for recording my unexpected inspiration.
    "Much obliged to you," I dropped, penciling the figures of my scribbles. "How is our Hamlet running?"
    "Splendid. We are going to present it at the festival on Shakespeare's jubilee."
    "Glad tidings. Good luck to you and the others. My apologies for sudden invasion. Best wishes!"
    "And the same to you," Alex hemmed in reply and broke connection.
    Without further delay, I dialed the number given by him.
    "Ellen?" I asked on her "Hello!"
    "It's me. Who is this?" she asked in her turn.
    "This is Paul speaking, the stage-director of Hamlet. Can you speak now?"
    "Yes, I just rest at present. Do you have any questions to me?"
    "Only one unsolved."
    "About Mark, right?" she guessed at once.
    "Exactly. It occurred to me that I can try to find the companion of his last meeting. I know the world of theater very well, after all, if his friend is out of this world."
    "Let me remember," she mumbled a little bewildered. (Mark had died less than three weeks ago, and it beseemed her to mourn for him.) "Yes, he mentioned something. I am not sure about that, but it seems to me that he said some hint. I beg your pardon, I was so badly shocked, and I haven't recovered from his death till now."
    "Sorry, but it's no use shedding tears, Ellen," I soothed her awkwardly. "Better attempt to recall what were his words literally."
    "I'm trying," she sighed out. "To my mind, it was sheer nonsense, but Mark had used epithet "clumsy". And he implied acting in all probability, because what else could he mean? Mark always spoke only about it-he was such a fanatic of profession."
    "Perhaps he also told you when they played together and where?" I spurred her memory.
    "When they played?" she repeated thoughtfully. "Indeed, there was a word "youth" in particular. But we only exchanged a pair of phrases on the run, and I didn't think I should never see him."
    She again started weeping.
    "In short, that's all? Maybe he said anything else?" I asked her for conscience' sake.
    "I don't remember," she sobbed. "Who could foresee it then?"
    "Anyway, I am grateful to you for your help. Accept my condolences on your loss once again and goodbye," I ended our talk a bit hastily-to avoid brewing a crying scene.
    "Goodbye," she answered sobbing. "Thank you for your call."
    "It was nothing. My regards to your colleagues."
    *
    "Very good," I thought, putting my cellular on the table and taking the bottle. "What result I have now?"
    If I was right, and Max had really arranged the trick of transfixing his body with blade that I did in the episode of Hamlet (when the prince thrusts his sword into the breast of the king, and the point of his rapier sticks out of the back of the throne), then Mark's boon companion was none other than Max, to whom the definition "clumsy" was quite applicable in his acting. Accordingly, they once took part in the same performance in their youth, or they were students of one and the same educational institution.
    Why must I rack my brain over it, by the by? If I am not mistaken, Mark was an alumnus of my precious Theater Academy, so Max was supposedly its graduate, too, withal his fellow-member of course most likely, unless both of them were troupers of one theater at the outset of their careers. I could very easily search out the telephones of the rector's office in the Internet and connect with a girl by name of Angela.
    Or rather, she was a lovely girl thirty years ago in my student days, and at times I cunningly benefited from our love affair to get some useful information from her as a secretary having access to all personal files and another documentation, inasmuch as, I feel impelled to admit it, my discipline left much to be desired, therefore I was often interested to be knowledgeable about sanctions threatening me for my behavior, very rarely impeccable.
    "Hopefully she didn't change her place of work," I grumbled, typing the name of my Alma Mater in the browser of my mobile phone. "How long might Mark be a professional actor? He was over thirty, but no more than thirty five, plus his higher education took four years."
    Fortunately, it was she who answered to my call as before, and I immediately recognized her familiar chest-voice.
    "Hello! I would like to speak with Angela," I reported to her, nevertheless, as a prelude.
    "May I ask who is calling?" she asked in an inexpressive clerkly tone.
    "Paul. My surname is-," I began.
    "Do you think I've forgotten your surname, dearie?" she inquired sarcastically.
    "I never dared to hope to be your unforgettable recollection," I exclaimed in feigned amazement. "Such beauties have a bad memory for their swains."
    "You always were able to choose an apt word for your roguery, sly imp," she laughed. "What do you want this time?"
    "Oh, so little that I feel uncomfortable to turn to you for this trifle."
    "Well, if you've turned yet, tell flat. What do you need from me?"
    "Information. Recently, I had to do with two actors, and one of them spoke of another as of a graduate of our Academy. Meanwhile, I am doubtful about that, since it is incompatible with his dilettantism. Maybe, all this isn't worth your trouble, but I'd prefer to know for sure."
    "I got you," she said more officially. "Say who are they, and I shall look over my card-index. When had they graduated the Academy approximately?"
    "According to my calculation, it was from ten to thirteen years ago. I'll give you their names."
    "Come on, buddy, girls don't like to wait."
    I gave her the names and surnames of Mark and Max.
    "Okay, ring me an hour later," she ordered, and I had nothing to do but obey her order.
    This hour odd was spent by me on perambulating up and down Ben Yehuda Street, where local painters and craftsmen loved to expose their canvases, drawings, and articles of handiwork, and buskers sometimes arranged their concerts quite on a professional level. As usual, time had flown there imperceptibly, and soon, I again dialed the number of Angela.
    "Here I am," I said. "Paul. What's the news?"
    "Hopeful, as ever," she smiled by her fluently purling, sensually deep voice that formerly made me so crazy about her. "Look here, masher."
    "I am all ears," I interjected ingratiatingly.
    "Well then, what I've dug out for you," she started reading out the results of her delving in archives. "As to Mark, he indeed had been graduated twelve years ago, but in the case of your Max we have a serious problem."
    "He didn't study at the Academy?"
    "No, he did, together with Mark. But he had been expelled after the second course as a backward student. In actuality, in the reference he is characterized as a student having no prospect."
    "That is, I'm not alone," I muttered. "Yet how then could he get a job as an actor?"
    "Always you were so predictable, my naive swain," Angela reproached me unctuously with derisive hypocrisy, obviously requiting me for my supremacy in depraving her in the past. "I anticipated your perplexity and found out the answer."
    "Don't keep me waiting, cutie!" I cried out imploringly.
    "Again you're impatient to begin, hothead," invisibly grinned this incorrigible risible mocker, as though giving me her peculiar come-hither look. "The point is briefly that he had a diploma of drama school ere his entering. Understand?"
    "Yes, of course. You're simply my good angel!"
    "I know. You would say it to me so many times."
    "You don't know, however, what a service you've done me."
    "As far as I remember I did you some more pleasurable services."
    "Goodness me! I see you left me behind in depravity!"
    "Why not? Diligent pupil must surpass her teacher, mustn't she?"
    "My special gratitude to you for "teacher", baby."
    "Not at all. Are you satisfied?"
    "Fully."
    "Already? Then, please, save your strength, old boy," she slightly bit me in conclusion. "Any question more?"
    "No, thanks. I'm in your debt for evermore."
    "I expect to collect the debt someday." Here my lovably licentious angel switched her modulating voice over to the most seductive register.
    "You are a shameless temptress," I emboldened her. "I'm smothering you with kisses."
    "I sense it-almost tangibly. My reciprocal smack to you on-you can guess what. Goodbye, my educator," she pronounced with unambiguously sexual languor so as to deal me a final blow.
    "Goodbye, my love, goodbye!" I sang with a farewell groan of a true voluptuary.
    So, as it became clear, I hit the mark and found a due clue to the mystery of the deathly inexorable Fate pursuing me, and only the small thing was lacking-to catch this monster, if my hypothesis had any corroborative facts in reality. But even so, the problem would not have been solved by me, for what evidence had I in stock to bring an accusation against him? Were he charged with all those murders, how could I prove his guilt without any substantial proof? My claim would be considered an allegation and defamation of character, while I should be sent to loony bin as the one obsessed with persecution mania.
    Besides, there was no possibility of determining his location anywhere; consequently, I had no chance to come into contact with him otherwise than at the point of his next attack. But it was hardly feasible to foretell who would be selected by mad Max as a target for his new foul trick, and I feared the worst.
    Anyhow, I was powerless to take preventive measures against his possible actions, all the more because the danger that faced me might be a phantom of my imagination. The veracity of that nightmarish sight of his death was a starting-point of my further reasoning, but I did not suppose any lessor would agree to acknowledge the very fact of such a suicide in the flat let out for rent; whereas my request to look over the police register of incidents of the last year was fraught with incurring suspicions of my involvement in this fishy accident, which would have entailed resumption of inquiry.
    In any event, the police had not a habit to connive at someone's excessive curiosity, so I risked being subjected to a serious interrogation through my inquisitiveness just when I intended to supplement our family budget with my wages for guarding some shopping centers, car-parks, and building sites in the following four months before my next production, still questionable enough because of too small a sum of the fee offered by the theater (after conversing cheap rubles into dear dollars there and cheap dollars into dear shekels here, this apparent fortune hardly equaled to my two months' earnings as a security guard). The play was thereunto a middling drawing-room comedy remade into an ordinary musical, and to stage it for a mere pittance was not what I dreamt of in my monastic schema of an exemplary philistine in Israel.
    It remained only to waylay till my fell phantom came into sight from nowhere to slay his fifth victim in an underhand way, though in this game he was undoubtedly in the more advantageous position, while I had no weapon in my arsenal but my alertness and vigilance. My advantage over him consisted, by and large, solely in my knowledge of his being among the living after his fake suicide with false blood, when he deemed its genuineness proved once and for all, but it was beyond my comprehension how could I profit by my sagacity.
    I saw the future as a wall of dense fog pregnant with veiled threat lurking in it, and impenetrability of incomprehensibility shrouded the logic of his conduct too hermetically to forestall his next step and stave off danger. I was obliged yet unable to ward off the impending misfortune-such was my inner conflict having no conciliation, since now at stake were the lives of my kith and kin. That's why my innermost wish was to encounter Max again and put an end to his flouting the very notion of justice. I didn't care a damn how he sank into crime, but I was resolute to pay him in his own coin.
    *
    In the interim, I changed the streetcar that had arrived at the Central Bus Station for a seat of bus and left Jerusalem without a visit to the Old City as ever.
    Henceforth I was forced to be in suspense, trembling at the thought of some insidious Doom looming large in my mind, taking into account that it was prowling somewhere hereabouts. Thereafter the life of each of my family was in jeopardy, as this unpreventable fatal accidentalness might hit everybody from every side.
    Tormented with misgivings and vain resentment against some impersonal archenemy sneering at me, I wandered, already in Tel Aviv, into the nearest pub and stayed there till evening, drowning my sorrows in various sorts of beer.
    Three days later, I got in touch with a regional inspector of the familiar security firm by name of Amram-to inform him about my readiness to serve again under his command for three months at least; and from the first day of the next week, I took up my duties on night and day shifts alternately at varied posts, which instantly imparted a bit of buoyancy to my mood and averted my thoughts from fruitless surmises and futile foresights.
   
   
    ACT 5: "DENOUEMENT OF PLOT"
   
    SCENE 13
   
    There was not very much to speak of in the next month of my troublesome service in a dark-blue jacket with a silver badge of my firm upon the left breast and one of the sleeves, the weighty holster of my Jericho fastened to the waist-belt on my right hip as an indispensable element of my uniform.
    It seemed that by day, e.g. at the entrance of a big supermarket, all the time was filled with some vanity vanities, but nonetheless, these eventful shifts contained nothing to write home about, even if I had any home to write there from here, where I never treated my flat as a real home, calling it deservedly "bivouac" with my felicity of expression honed in the years of rehearsals.
    The routine of my onerous job constantly required my watchfulness, and so I ever perceived the space of its time elided in my awareness of reality, thinking at leisure of such a stream of busyness carrying us along on and on in our subjection to some exigent circumstances until the moment of going ashore when we suddenly find an inexplicable void behind instead of consolatory recollections-as an inevitable corollary of our mechanical mode of life. Maybe, human being is no more than "social animal", yet, sooner or later, just memory becomes the only content of self-identification of this animal that tries in vain to step in the same river twice in spite of Heraclitus and steps to its amazement in a dry bed without any river at all.
    To cut a long story short, soon after, I got accustomed to my work as before, causally flaunting my equipment on my way to the next object of my watch and back, except that I never relaxed my attention whenever I returned home and wherever I walked, in the hope of spotting Max perchance either in the crowd or as an odd loiterer catching my eye, say, thrice a day, for my professional look would have singled out a suspicious figure at once in any costume and makeup, just as I would automatically pick out a potential terrorist or lawbreaker in my mind among numerous gatherings of buyers and clients on my shifts.
    Although there was no vestige of his mobile phone in the database of telephone numbers in Israel, I was sure he would appear again if no mistake had crept into my train of thoughts, and if what I had deduced from my analysis of the chain of accomplished events was not the ravings of an idiot. In his last note, he had wished me to die in despair, being pursued by death, and it was understandable whose death might drive me to despair, were Max smart enough to keep me under observation in my household.
    Meanwhile, the very assumption of danger to my three girlies was filling me with wrath to such a degree that, completely losing my vaunted self-possession, I turned every time into a ferocious wild beast of prey like a hungry man-eating tiger thirsting for blood and for the bleeding flesh of an enemy torn alive. I think many people share my attitude to a villain attempting the lives of their nearest and dearest; however, I rather differed from the majority by resolution to take the law into my own hands without hesitation for carrying my speculative sentence of death into execution.
    As a director, I often repeated to my actors that only new roles could reveal their potentiality to themselves, on condition that they would trust me in creating their roles in pursuance of my directions; and the same self-knowledge took place from time to time when somebody had to play some part in a scenario of life, where fight wasn't sham, and weapon wasn't work of property-master.
    It so happened that I had a considerable experience of single-combats and collective battles as a street-fighter in my youth fallen on the relatively peaceful years of the late soviet regime before firearm came into general use and post-soviet gangs began to divide territories and spheres of control everywhere in their criminal wars for unearned income from racket and seizure of ownership. Therefore, I never was under illusion about any innate humaneness of my nature, knowing not by hearsay that I was practically capable of anything if the situation demanded it of me. To turn the other cheek to the riffraff, whom I dealt with in the street, was too inadmissible a weakness, because my credulity might cost me loss of head, to say nothing of my ribs and limbs broken in a severe drubbing without rules and of my teeth knocked out by guys having no notion of honesty and conscience.
    *
    Meantime the weather of Israel, extremely changeable and capricious in the rainy season, summoned up its strength after the protracted period of warmth and dryness and burst out into thunderstorms and downpours showering all over the country, and thereupon the water of abundant rainfalls quickly filled the empty channels of silted brooks dried up to parched loam of wadies in summer.
    Now, in torrential rain, the raging torrents were rushing in those riverbeds, and these swelling muddy rivulets were overflowing their banks, flooding the near-by highways and low-lying areas; thus my waterproof hike boots proved very useful as well as the black hooded jacket I wore over my uniform, for the winter heavy showers were, as a rule, accompanied by a fitful strong wind breaking my wrenched umbrella with furious gusts.
    If you want to ask me how I would define the character of this local weather, my answer will be such-"hysterical"; and weather forecasts cannot always describe its fits and paroxysms in full measure.
    Only minutes ago, you were basking in the sun, peeped out in the overcast sky to shine tepidly for a while, but here, the darkening heavens get overclouded, and a wind springs up without any harbingers, immediately beginning to blow the raindrops in your face. And a few seconds later, you are already standing in the seething water of the inundated road, while the gale is assailing you with the lashing deluge coming down in sheets, which may continue without a break for a day or more.
    So you must willy-nilly keep up with the fresh news of weather bureau in order to escape being soaked to the skin in the sudden rain pouring out of the blue.
    As several times I chanced to be caught by such surprises of the perfidious climate, I was learnt from my own mistakes and had a habit to look in my cellular telephone what weather was expected in the place of my watch or visit, since my meeting with these natural phenomena might depend on my location in some neighboring boroughs or small towns scattered densely enough in the vicinity of Tel Aviv.
    It was safe to say that the forthcoming night shift, appointed on one of weekdays, scarcely promised to pamper me with serenity. Excepting short respites, the wet weather lasted by then for some days on end, and the rain was pelting down most of the time.
    I had occasion to be on duty in the given place more than once, so I did not nourish any hope to take a nap there.
    What a sleep could I have in that large courtyard of a six-storied office-block, which was marked out for parking-lots and edged along the wall of the building with two tiers of roofed elevators for cars of managers. This frightening unwieldy construction led to the back wall that was sealed with the massive gates of a warehouse, and the drains in that corner were incapable of letting out all the water of inundation in the real storm. When I saw in my monitor in the lobby how the whirlpool was rising to swamp the steel racks with computers inside, I connected with the proprietors of the goods renting the warehouse, keeping the lobby and the outside parking in the second monitor under my observation, and so on.
    In short, I had a dank sleepless night in prospect, so that I was inclined to have a snooze after the dinner, but my ever-busy daughter-jurist had not failed to impose the familiarly hateful function of babysitting on me once again, promising in exchange for my tractability to buy something for me in supermarket.
    Thus, in absence of our pedagogic "granny", I was condemned to read books aloud to my five-year-old kiddy, entertaining this attentive tot as inventively as I was able with my antipathy to "theater in life" and my intolerance to amateurish pretense to acting.
    Notwithstanding my theatrical vocation, I never liked to be a performer, apparently because of my irreconcilability with all dilettantism in actor's profession. In addition, I always hated to stage matinees and New Year's performances for children, though, to be frank, I couldn't escape netting a profit as Santa Claus like the others in my young days for feeding my little daughter.
    Yet, as usual, nobody deigned to stoop to my predilections, and I was abandoned at the discretion of my granddaughter with her mammy's prohibition to watch TV.
    Not that I lacked love for this curly and chubby nice child, or I felt insufficient affection for my pet, but I was alien to sentimentality, even if either of my three girlies twisted me round her little finger, because it was much easier to me to comply with her request than, having refused it, to suffer from pangs of conscience while she was pouting at me with an aggrieved air. As I said, I had a weakness for the gentle sex, and they would make use of this strain of my character, including the youngest damsel, who could easily wheedle me into giving her what she wanted when her ma was absent and could not forbid me to cosset her.
    Anyway, I was again mobilized to present a one-man show of dramatic reading before a worthwhile listener, though it was a certain consolation that she served me from the cradle as a whetstone for sharpening my pronunciation in Hebrew, which was everyday language in the family of my daughter despite "Russian" origin of both the parents.
    Of course, our little sweetie could pronounce some phrases in Russian, too, but for all that, Hebrew was her native language, while Israel was her native land, whatever stories and legends we would have been telling her about our distant fatherland being showed by Russian TV-channels. Her mother country was here, and such was my personal payment for the crushing collapse of the Soviet Union more than twenty years ago.
    *
    It grew rather dark in the street when the telephone rang at last, and my Ann notified me of their arrival by our daughter's car.
    "Come down, darling," ordered she in a commanding tone, so characteristic of her now. "We've bought too much to drag all the purchases."
    "First you must be home, my dear," I answered reasonably. "Somebody should mine the baby."
    "Without your reminder, I'd forget about it," she remarked in a querulous voice. "Open the door already, adviser."
    Here I thought that I was to relieve the preceding guard only at 11 p.m., and that I had no wish to pass the whole five hours in company with "my dear" before a night of sleepless vigilance.
    As God is my witness, my long-suffering had its limits of endurance, beyond which I was quite capable of kicking over the traces, and in that case, my dissipation would have been the lesser evil in comparison with my sober calculation boding no good to my deserted wife.
    My chequered life of a roving stage-director had taught me to rate highly such a place of refuge as my family circle that I sheltered from any invasion of my unceremonious theatrical associates and heroines of love byplays, therefore in Russia I could hit it off with my aging sweetheart, but the severe test of our repatriation had stripped off the rest of the romantic veil from Ann's true nature, and her attitude to me evolved from proud tenderness and ironical respect to hard indifference and condescending disregard, which I did not repay in kind lest my retaliation hew the last props of our dilapidated marriage alliance threatening to tumble down into a heap of debris as it was. I did my utmost to protect my holy wedlock against a destructive influence of age and be steady in my principles for preventing it from break-up, but I endeavored to no avail, as our fifties were not equivalent or even commensurable.
    Preoccupied with such thoughts of pouring water into a sieve, I came down to the street before our house. Having caught sight of a woman in a stylish trousers-suit who was opening the boot of her Honda parked at the side-road not far off, I headed for this car standing in a dotted line of the cars occupied most of the room along the border and still more narrowed the two-lane roadway.
    While walking I was perfunctorily surveying the part of the street within the range of vision, thinking how poetical were the gleaming wet automobiles gliding past in streams in the two opposite directions on the glossy black asphalt and glistening in the misty ochreous light of hazy haloes of the street-lamps as some speedily-crawling and muffledly-growling parti-colored beetles, dewily washed with the temporarily ceased rain.
    Nonetheless, from force of habit, I continued to heed all that I saw cursorily, to ponder certain details glimpsed by me afterwards, when they might acquire a new significance.
    "Greetings! Let me practice weight-lifting, my dove," I said, approaching the streamlined crimson Honda of my daughter. "I'm at your service."
    "Excellent," she nodded in reply, taking some weighty polythene bags out of the boot. "But you'll be laden fully."
    "Don't frighten a hardened loader," I deflected her unnecessary caution. "Your daddy is feeble only outwardly."
    "Outwardly, you are a real thug," she said, handing me her bags. "I'd say you're too tough to look like a puny intellectual."
    "Then what about a mark of wisdom?" I asked, gathering the hanging paunchy bags in my left hand.
    "On your face? You're, perhaps, likeable, but you have rather a countenance of conquistador, excuse my straightforwardness."
    "It is unworthy of lawyer to curry favor with an ordinary toiler from self-interest," I gave a short chuckle. "Give me, please, what you've brought, I'm still sturdy enough."
    "Nobody questions your sturdiness, but something is mine here," she couldn't refrain from chaffing. "I hope the weight-lifting won't tax your strength excessively, and you'll help me to bring down one piece of my chattels by name Emmy."
    "Willingly! Just owing to my carrying of this angelic creature, I am well preserved and spry in my declining years. By the way, if you don't object, I would go for a drive with you up to the center of the town."
    "No problem. Let's complement one another: if you're a loader, then I'm a charioteer. Mutual aid, as they say."
    "I'm very glad to see you so chirpy after a working day."
    "It's mere dissembling. Anyone will master it with father-director."
    "Thus my upbringing was not unavailing?"
    "Oh, no, it was simply determinant. It's good that I absconded from Russia in time. Or else I might become an actress, God forbid!"
    "The matter quite can be mended. I still have a glimmer of hope in the artistic streak of the third generation."
    "Nothing doing, daddy! My heiress will be judicious enough to shun the stage and give all "theater workers" a wide berth in future."
    She slammed the boot of her car and extracted a bunch of keys from an oblong leather clutch hanging on the thin strap slung over her right shoulder and resembling the cowboy gun-holster by its buff color. There was a small pendant-button on the ring of the bunch for the remote control of the alarm security system of her Honda, and after she pressed it, the car uttered a squeaky quack in response.
    "Well," she concluded in the style of a double-dyed barrister. "Recapitulating the aforesaid, the contracting parties have reached an amicable agreement of an armistice for a time."
    *
    On taking out new clothes, provision of food-store, and sundries, and then on dressing the imperturbable object of our debate, we spent about forty minutes, as my two chatterers loved to prate, and they were talking over each of the articles of clothing and costume jewelry so circumstantially that I had enough time to don my winter uniform.
    Having tightened the belt with my security guard gear and armed myself with my service pistol, I covered it with the waterproof jacket, put on over my equipment, from the eyes of our curious moppet.
    In full rig, with Emmy on my right arm and with her orange mini-satchel in my left hand, I descended the stairs together with her mummy to the entrance and carried our precious to the wetly glittering smart Honda.
    My daughter jingled her keys; the car quacked shortly, unlocking its anti-theft device; and I opened the back door to sit my granddaughter in her child safety seat in accordance with the rules.
    And here, he again got into my field of vision, the marked man, of whom I had caught a fleeting glimpse on the other side of the road when I viewed the street almost an hour earlier.
    But now, he was sitting afar on the bench on this side, and he had instantly taken his eyes off our car as soon as I slightly turned my head in his direction.
    "Here you are, rascal!" I thought, placing Emmy in her seat and watching him gazing at our Honda, since I could see, invisible, through the back window how that gnome-like oddity, whose indiscernible face was framed in a grey ragged beard and unkempt locks, unambiguously riveted his fixed glance on us, in wait for what I'd like to ask him. Why he stared just at our automobile, and what he expected us to do? "Okay, I'll check up on that."
    After having clasped the seat belt, I gave my baby a kiss on the cheek and was out.
    "You know what," I said to my daughter, ready to turn her ignition key, "I shall stay here, probably."
    "Anything wrong?" she asked, starting up the engine.
    "Nothing but a sudden thought," I answered. "I want to make sure of it."
    "Then we leave you, daddy. Goodbye!"
    "Be careful, girlies. See you tomorrow."
    In the meantime, while standing by the car with my back turned on that gnome I moved apart the laps of my unbuttoned jacket and laid my hand on the cold handle of my Jericho.
    To open fire, I was going as a last resort; otherwise, I would have had to account for every bullet, without any earnest reason for shooting, while the prospect to land up in prison did not please me.
    As an inventive intriguer, I had yet outlined a plan for my further actions, and a key point of my plan was to avoid being implicated in the accident that would happen to a foreigner in the rainy night somewhere-say, in the park on the river Yarkon, for example, why not there, indeed?
    By my left hand, I closed the back door, and when the Honda started, I turned abruptly and went with a resolute step to the suspicious man in a winter windcheater sitting on the wet bench.
    This time he failed to avert his eyes, so I looked him straight in the face edged with the fluffy hair of the hooded grey mane of his wig.
    Scared, he jumped up from the bench and was about to walk away from an approaching danger, but I jerked my pistol out of the holster and waved my firearm expressively, commanding him to stop.
    Next instant, he swung round and stepped towards me, pulling down from his shoulder some tarpaulin pouch that made a metal clank.
    "Atzor!" I barked out in Hebrew in the nick of time. "Al tazuz, adoni!"
    He blenched and stopped dead, distrustfully goggling at me.
    "I don't understand Hebrew," said he in Russian.
    "Okay, then in Russian," I changed language.
    "Freeze!" I repeated my order. "Don't move, mister!"
    "What's the matter?" he asked in a hoarse voice, hardly believing in his own unrecognizability.
    "Please, put your bag on the socle," I pointed with my gun at the half-stone and half-cast-iron fence partitioning off one of the local private parking lots from the pavement. "And take a step back."
    "It is strange," he muttered, laying his weightily clanking pouch on the stone ledge.
    "Now produce your identity card, please," I required in an official tone, being sure that he would never show me any document with his photo or name.
    "I have no card with me," he answered, just as I expected.
    "Then, maybe, you have Russian passport, mister?" I continued to insist.
    "Nothing, I said," he snapped, irritated. "May I go?"
    "No," I dropped with gelid dispassion. "What is in your bag?"
    "My tools. But I demand explanation."
    "In due time, mister. Show your tools, please."
    He raised his bag by its two corners and shook it.
    The metal things that had fallen out of the pouch with a rattle onto the ledge were wrenches of different calibers and types, including an adjustable spanner.
    But what attracted my attention first and foremost was a big L-shaped steel bar with a cylindrical socket on its bent end, so-called "lug-wrench" intending for screwing off the nuts of automobile wheels, as I knew this, helping my daughter many times by my brute strength to get her auto into working order.
    And the first thought, which flashed across my mind, was remembrance of Max's work in auto-service after quitting the scene.
    Until this dreadful thought struck me, I could not say for certain if the stranger was really Max, yet my sudden conjecture made me act urgently on the assumption that it was just he, because at present some seconds might be deciding for the lot of my two most loved ones.
    "I must call. Be here," I told my detainee to wait, drawing my mobile phone and pressing the familiar number in the list.
    "Yaldonet (Girlie)," I said quickly in Hebrew, having fastened my eyes on the figure shifting from one foot to the other in front of me. "Stop your car immediately. And very carefully. No sharp turn, you get me?"
    "What's up?" she asked, guessing from the intonations of my voice that I speak seriously.
    "At first, stop the car," I ordered her sternly.
    "Well, I'm decelerating," she began to obey me at last. "I'm braking... Here I've driven up to the roadside... That's all, dad, I've parked. I'll be fined for sure in this place, though."
    "I'll pay your fine when all of it is over. Now listen to me. Have you any tools for your car in the boot?"
    "Yes, of course," she answered, puzzled. "But I wonder what's happened. Why do you ask me about tools?"
    "Later, I shall explain what and why. Your car, I suspect, is a bit out of order. You, therefore, must examine it closely from outside."
    "Really? As you see, it's spotting the rain outside. And my parking-lot is rather improper for examining."
    "I think there are problems with the wheels. In all likelihood, its lug nuts are slightly loosened."
    "Whence you know?"
    "Later, girlie. Have you a special wrench for screwing? It is long enough, resembling a poker."
    "I understand what you mean. If you're right, then it's better to be drenched."
    "After examination, ring me about the results. Okay?"
    "Naturally. I go to look for your wrench."
    I bore it in mind that Max did not speak Hebrew, and I planned my revenge, allowing for his ignorance of the Israeli life.
    As to the supposition of his diversionary employment of the lug-wrench, it had smitten me due to a precedent of such a road accident known to me from one of the drivers with whom I once kept a nodding acquaintance at work. Someone of his relatives was killed in a car crash when a wheel suddenly came off while the car was tearing along the highway at full speed. Subsequently, screwing on and tightening the lug nuts of his own car, he enlightened me concerning the great importance of this manipulation.
    No wonder that I had remembered his heartrending story at the sight of Max's wrenches, because what else could he do in our absence for unknown duration if he intended to arrange a fatal casualty arousing no suspicion of premeditated murder? The logic causality was crystal clear, and it remained only to wait for confirmation of my deduction.
    "What?" the disguised actor inquired. "Is the question settled?"
    "Sorry, but no," I answered, frowning, again in Russian. "I've telephoned my command and received instructions. Since they have no vacant patrol-car to send here, I must bring you to the station on foot."
    "Bollocks!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "Why the deuce must you bring me there?"
    "The point is that you are very like the identikit of one criminal," I succinctly explained the reason of his detention.
    "It's nonsense! I'm Russian tourist!" he cried out indignantly.
    "Tell who you are at the station," I recommended him cold-bloodedly. "Without any confirming papers you are a suspect, and it is outside my competence to establish your identity. Is it understandable, mister?"
    "You are all wacky here with your security," reacted he crabbily to my elucidation. "How far are we to go?"
    "About half an hour's going. Put your tools into the bag, and we set out for the station."
    There was no doubt that he had his identity card or passport in his pocket, so his purpose was to get rid of me for producing it.
    Meanwhile, I pursued the object of bringing him to an appointed place in Tel Aviv without his resistance and without my premature violence.
    "I'm bound to warn you not to make any attempt to escape," I said unkindly. "I'm forced to spend my own time on escorting you as it is, and I'm not going to chase you in addition. This gun is loaded with ten rounds, and I am a crack shot."
    "I have no intention of running away," he assured me. "I am not your criminal."
    "Good. Then take your bag and let's go on Shanks's mare. Forward, mister; stir your stumps, for I'm pressed for time."
    My profession of stage-director constantly afforded me an opportunity for acquiring masterly skill in persuasiveness of my purposeful deception, that's why, without false modesty, I wielded this weapon irreproachably, directing the aspirations of my circumvented actors to requisite aims and driving them imperceptibly into my vision of their characters. My performance impromptu was predictably no less successful than my usual feigned sincerity in rehearsals.
    "But you aren't cop, are you?" Max announced the results of his observation, slinging the loop of his pouch over his shoulder so that it would lie slantwise across his breast.
    "In a way," I owned my inferiority exasperatedly. "Yet this doesn't relieve me of responsibility for such incidents. There is a code of rules and instructions in our service, and small fry like me has to keep to it. Come on, pal, buck up!"
    I put my Jericho in the holster, and we started walking along the street, going on and on through our borough towards the broad bridge spanning the concreted canal of the bed of the brook Ayalon together with the railway track and the highway stretched alongside the canal.
    The bridge connected us with Tel Aviv, and it was only a stone's throw from there to another bridge destined by me to become the point of a denouement.
    The beginning rain came down a little harder when we reached the noisy road across the former ravine. Just then, my cellular rang barely audible in the pother of the city traffic.
    The following dialogue in Hebrew was short and meaty.
    "What?" I raised my voice, outvoicing the roar of the trucks hurtling past us.
    "You were right," said my daughter. "The lug nuts were loosened. We indeed had a chance to smash into something at the turn. I usually average eighty-ninety on the motorway, so you can imagine how we would crash without one wheel."
    "I quite imagine, yes. Call the service and taxi."
    "What for? I've tightened the nuts."
    "I beg you not to tempt fate. Drive your car only after a good check-up, okay?"
    "Well, children must obey their parents. Considering that my hands are still shaking with fear."
    "Mine shake, too, poor child."
    "But how you knew it?"
    "Not now. I kiss you both and call you later when you are home. So long, kids!"
    "Bye-bye, daddy."
    *
    While talking with her I continued to go on my way, and at present, from the bridge I could see the afore-named brook utterly evaporating in summer in the arid climate of Israel.
    Now, in the artificial bed, it was a swollen turbulent torrent colored rusty-clayey that looked like a red-brown rough river angrily carrying its troubled waters level with the banks and spreading them over the railway and the flooded surfaced road, where all cars and lorries were forcing their ways through the thin water layer, splashing the watery paint on each other.
    My words about my shaking hands weren't the whole truth, for I did not enunciate the true reason of shaking.
    Since the infallible proofs of malicious intent were produced, and consequently, Max's identity was established, I flew into a towering rage, and my first impulse was to fling him over the rails of the bridge down-to meet his inevitable death in the torrent.
    However, I restrained my frenzy, because such a quick death was not what I had prepared for the murderer of my four comrades-in arts and in love.
    "No, it would be too easy," I gritted my teeth. "He must be aware that this is not a flare-up of causeless aggression, but the just retribution overtaken him."
    "A call from the station?" asked Max casually.
    "Maybe," I pronounced brusquely in Russian with a forbidding air. "The regulations prescribe us to avoid divulging the rules of procedure."
    "What a State secret may an ordinary guard leak in a private talk?" he fleered at me.
    "I am not empowered to enter into discussions with detainees," I rapped out the words of my retort being drowned by the deafening din around. "Please, keep your mouth shut and quicken your pace."
    "I'd like only to ask about the time of inquest," he rejoined incautiously.
    "Can't you keep quiet, mister?" I snubbed him, containing the second fit of anger and passing off a sudden movement of my trunk as a turn from a gust of the brisk wind that had spattered my face with icy beads of rain. "Leave your displeasure to police functionaries. That's not my province to satisfy someone's idle curiosity."
    "I thought the Israelis are accustomed to be polite," he remarked huffily with a side-glance at me from under the brows.
    His beetle brows were also grey, stuck with spirit-gum to shade the dark eye-sockets: till now, I couldn't make out what color were his gleaming eyes.
    The truth was that I had the very vague recollections of his appearance, for I considered Max an insignificant episodic personage, and I did not foresaw this escort in the rainy evening and this hatred toward him overwhelming me to such a degree that I hardly resisted the temptation to grab him by the collar and throw his body off from the bridge before he reacted to my throw.
    It would be insanity, though, to do it at the eminence, where we were visible from everywhere.
    "You have a right to lodge a complaint about rudeness," I proposed imperturbably. "True, our official language is Hebrew, as I ought to bring to your notice. It may make a certain inconvenience for you."
    He already opened his mouth to call me "Yid", but remembered timely that he was in Israel, and that many representatives of the chosen people might resent this sobriquet.
    As for me, I sneered gloomily to myself, for the ignoramus was not conversant with the differentiation prevailing among the heterogeneous Jewish population.
    In our Middle East melting pot, all the ingredients were stubborn in their peculiarities and hard-mouthed in their unwillingness to be compounded into one nation, notwithstanding the obsolescent prejudices of some naive bigots against the national unity of Jewry in a worldwide conspiracy. Perhaps such a conspiracy was taking place somewhere, but unfortunately, not all the ones who were of the same Jewish blood had been admitted to the participation in this conspiracy, and the real life in Israel was demolishing the very theory of any general blood-brotherhood at every step, given that the time-honored tradition of turning tribesmen into financial slaves, which The Tanakh narrated, was a contemporary guide to action everywhere.
    So, in silence, we wended our way toward the intersection of the two avenues, along one of which we was going. There our road bore to the right in the direction of the next bridge that was a continuation of the transverse avenue, leading over the river Yarkon to another borough, where, also on the right, one could presently get to the campus of the university from which my daughter had graduated.
    Only I did not have in view to cross the bridge. More and more approaching my Rubicon, I was weighing the possible consequences of different ways of executing my sentence, while the condemned buffoon deemed that he had again managed to outwit his fooled enemy, exulting inwardly in anticipation of my final crash after receiving the horrific news about the death of both my girlies in a road accident.
    For the time being, I conceded a right to regard one of us as a victor to this doomed maniac, too overdone it in his gory play, even though his rejoicing at my woe and his admiration for his own ingenuity in killing all his victims for a lark and without compunction extremely incensed me. Preparing to redress injury to my feelings (in words of my lawyer's jurist lexicon), I still commanded myself, pretending, poker-faced, to be absorbed in face-control of rare passers-by whenever he leered at me.
    Anyway, I was an artist, and my enraged imagination couldn't but suggest a solution of the closing scene of the tragedy written and staged by the hurt mediocrity, so confident of success in destroying my life out of revenge for the ruin of his ambitions through my fault. The godsend of the solution was that it combined edification and contrition with efficacy.
    *
    "Just a minute, mister," I halted our marching rank. "I must buy something."
    "You promised half an hour," he reminded me boldly. "How much time has passed by your watch?"
    "In your place, I would shut up," I observed composedly, although, with all my self-possession, I all but bashed his head against the nearest wall. "For you I've spared so much time that you should wait without blather."
    "Familiar Russian boorishness," he curled his lip.
    And again, I nearly socked him in the jaw, albeit suppressed my impetuous outburst of rage for prolongation of pleasure. Concentrated as I was on the following steps of my plan, I kept all his villainies in mind at the same time, and I could not permit myself to make a hash of it.
    To beat him black and blue was not enough for my righteous hatred, since he became evil personified for me, and this evil devastated me godlessly and endangered the lives of my girlies. I was unwavering in my intention to weed out this evil forever, so my delay of execution wasn't any hesitation. No, conversely, I sought for improvised means to increase the severity of his reckoning tonight, as there were four murders committed on his conscience, and capital punishment was due to him for each of them.
    I had called a halt by the open doorway of a grocer's small shop, where I noticed a stand with transparent plastic glasses of one-hundred grams of alcoholic beverages, of vodka in particular, which was just what I needed as a finishing stroke to my scenario.
    Without coming in the shop, I pointed with a movement of my chin at the stand to a suntanned guy lazing about behind the counter with his player warbling a mellifluously plaintive mushy love-song.
    "Ahalan, motek! (Hi, buddy!)" I accompanied my pantomime with a direction in Hebrew. "Give me, please, five of those thimbles of vodka."
    "There're one hundred grams in every thimble," he forewarned me, taking five doses one by one from the shelf and putting them into a compact polythene sack. "It is a whole bottle altogether."
    "A wee drop of spirit is the best stimulant for a real lush," I laughed it off. "What does it cost?"
    He answered, and I paid for half a liter of vodka meant for five toasts, while Max had not understood a word of our conversation in Hebrew but "vodka".
    "Many thanks for a bracer in crapulence," I said to the shop assistant. "Be teetotaler."
    "Cool idea," he replied, amplifying the music of his player. "Drop in to us again. Bye."
    "Bye."
    Meantime the windy rain was ready to turn into a drench, and I thought God sent me the auspicious weather this evening.
    "What?" Max asked. "Let's have a drink to keep the rain out?"
    "Precisely," I agreed without batting an eyelid. "Further, we are going straight to the bridge, and from there, it is only a short step to the station."
    "You have your own notions of "short" and "far" in your Israel," the impudent visitor reproached me grumpily for my Levantine mentality.
    "Please, air your grievances to the orderly officer-don't vent it upon some underling," I advised him heartlessly, pondering my actions at the terminus of our rout.
    From childhood, I never trusted I could gain a victory because I was a good boy fighting for a just cause against bad boys. As a dogged combatant for personal liberty, I preferred to rely on my courage, dauntlessness, and knack of fisticuffs, not on the moral superiority of my principles.
    In my cruel everyday struggle for independence in the street, I would often have to withstand the shameless meanness of some ruffians and rowdies scorning any justification and beating their prey pitilessly with knuckledusters and metal rods, exclusively for amusement. Surely, I would have been mauled and crippled to full disability by them if I were expending the time of scraps with the brainless scum on appealing to their humanity for compassion and pity.
    As saying goes, no quarter was asked and none was given-such were the laws of our survival in the midst of all those half-criminal plebs, degenerated proles, and sweepings of the gutter in the comparatively peaceful soviet reality of our big industrial town.
    At the present moment, the task facing me also required me to provide against unexpected surprises, or else one bad boy might break my head with his steel spanner or stab me with a knife before I could apply my knowledge of a few holds of unarmed combat, especially since he already proved his turpitude as a killer and subtle enemy, and it were impermissible to be heedless of danger in his company.
    The wisest thing was to secure myself against every risk, while the best guarantee of my invulnerability was, undoubtedly, suddenness.
    *
    Apparently, the powers above were on my side, supervising the realization of my scheme and facilitating its fulfillment, as at our approach to the bridge the rain discarded the last decencies and came down with a vengeance.
    It was fair to say that now we got caught in a thunderstorm.
    After the cloudburst poured from the opened heavens and enveloped us in its cataracts being whipped by the sharp gusty wind, a blinding branchy fissure of lightning ripped the dark firmament, whereupon a deafening thunderous clap split the rainy turmoil and formidably shook the trunk-road of the bridge and the descent to the park hiding its lakes, grassplots, and clusters of trees in the night darkness of the heavy fall of rain; though the rows of the lit lampposts were weakly illuminating the strings of cars on the road and the pedestrian footpaths stretching along the river on both sides from the sea downstream and coming in the park upstream just here under the bridge.
    The Yarkon's confluence with its left tributary, the memorable brook Ayalon dashing along in the concrete bed, was somewhere at the territory of this extensive park; hence it was easy to imagine what had become of our still river, only thirty-fifty meters broad, slowly flowing between its low, gentle, grassy banks like the Avon in Shakespeare's Stratford in summer sultriness.
    I doubted would anyone have called it "still rivulet" now, having beheld from above the chaotic glints dancing on the rushing rapid of the Yarkon, rising in the lashing torrents and splashing on its slopes.
    I felt anxiety for the place of my choice-what if it was in the water by this time-but here the lightning flashed once more. By its dazzlingly pallid light, I found that, luckily for me, the near footpath was not yet flooded, and no flaneur dared to go for a stroll thither in the stormy weather.
    Thus, I had enough time to do what I planned; that's why I dismissed Max with a nod and with a short cry in the surrounding wild uproar:
    "Go down!"
    He glanced at me from under his hood and hairy framing, and I directed him to the left with my sack full of plastic glasses of vodka.
    As he went downstairs to the passage under the low arches of the broad bridge, I unzipped my waterproof jacket with my right hand so as to make the holster of my gun more accessible. The stone steps were narrow for two ones; therefore, Max had not attached much importance to my position behind his back while I followed him.
    I was somehow unwilling to evince chivalric nobility in respect of this scoundrel and challenge him magnanimously to a joust, because any responsibility for his misadventure was not presupposed for anybody (and for me least of all).
    Just as he stopped before stepping forward into the pouring rain outside, I overtook him and dropped my sack on the footpath of the passage.
    Then, without a pause, I struck a blow on his kidneys with the edges of my palms.
    I knew this chop would fell him, but the effect had exceeded expectations.
    He choked with a strangled howl and fell to his knees in the dark puddle, pressing his sides with his hands and bending back in his loin with unbearable pain.
    It is unnecessary to open the secret of success after I have relived old memories of my young combativeness, as the immutable rule of every battle with numerical superiority of the enemy was to begin the fight with one of the "first blows", which might put out of action and neutralize a chieftain. Taking into account that I had decided to bring to book a perpetrator of heinous villainy without leaving a trace, I chose such a body blow in preference to the other.
    The blow was hard enough to knock down more strapping and truculent a fighter than Max, who, writhing in front of me on his knees, his weighty pouch dangling on his belly, was groaning, terror-stricken, on the verge of puking in mud.
    Yet I kept him in suspense not very long.
    Over his shoulder, I grabbed his false beard with my right paw, and with my left claw, I grasped for his wet hood with a wig. Then I tugged at the hood and beard at once with all my might and tore off his disguise at one go.
    "Bare your head, you sod!" I bellowed out in unison with the bellowing thunder and hurled the crumpled hairy handiwork of a wigmaker into the roaring black stream running past me in the darkness almost level with the footpath.
    Not that I deemed the risk too high, but it was hard to foresee what Max had in his pockets in addition to steel thingamajigs in his bag, and when he could recover from my knockdown. I threw back my waterproof hood, drew my Jericho, and put its barrel to the skull of the kneeling dark figure that was silhouetted against the glistening sheer wall of the furiously hissing water beyond the lowly hanging, thick, cast-iron girders heavily vibrating with hollow resonance now under the wheels of mammoth trailers now from the cracks of thunder.
    "It's your day of reckoning, Max!" I shouted, adjusting to the boisterous weather.
    "What do you want?" he wheezed out, without asking me how I managed to recognize him.
    What had horrified him most of all at the first instant, apart anything else, was, I think, the possibility of receiving the information about the unavoidable car crash arranged by him. He hoped I did not suspect him to be an initiator of all the previous accidents, nor did I guess what role he played in the preparation of my last tragedy; or at any rate, he prayed God to hold back any notification of that imminent catastrophe till our parting (unless it had happened yet).
    He still did not realize in full measure what role was mine in the given episode; otherwise, he would have groveled at my feet in trepidation and supplicated for mercy, inasmuch as any forgiveness of his ghastly crimes was impossible. He tried to convince himself that his mystery remained unsolved, and that his participation was untraceable in all those incidents, even if I spotted him as a familiar personage of my past despite his makeup.
    It was time to disappoint him in some degree and disprove his confidence of his own infallibility and invincibility. Nor will I deny that my blood was up, for the first full contact had aroused my bloodthirsty ferocity in the twinkling of an eye.
    "What, shitbag? Are you awaiting the issue of your nasty trick?" I tapped his noddle with the barrel of my pistol, speaking loudly as before because of the noisy frenzied pattering of the torrential rain that was swirling in the convulsively flashing chaos of the violent storm around and exploding with new and new thunderclaps deafening our voices.
    "What do you mean?" he gulped with scare, cowering and stooping his shoulders to the touch of a metal thing on his occiput.
    "You yourself shall tell me what I mean!" I bawled at him in a stentorian voice, for in the hellish bacchanalia of this winter downpour I could vociferate to my heart's content.
    "Why? I can't catch your meaning!" he cried out, quite understanding that my forefinger was on the trigger.
    "Then you shall catch a bullet in your stupid brain!" I proclaimed at the top of my voice, although I did not move the safety catch of my gun, and there was no cartridge out of the chamber in the barrel.
    Nevertheless, my threats were not pure bluff, only I did not propose to fire my Jericho, relying on my strength and experience. Max, however, was incognizant of my pacifism in restricted appliance of firearm, and he was frightened with my promise to stupor.
    "Be pal and remember how you unscrewed the lug nuts of the car wheel," I jabbed him with my pistol so rudely that he made a bow. "Because it was the car of my daughter, and my granddaughter rode in it, you mongrel!"
    Meanwhile, his hands were out of my control, which was somewhat ambiguous. Had I suffered him to slide his hands in his bosom, his next movement might be a quick cut of his switchblade or a shot of his unlicensed revolver, as befitted the obliquity of this shifty fellow.
    Better safe than sorry and I should have split his skull with the handle of my gun if it were not for the chief condition of my strategy consisted in masking the liquidation as a misadventure.
    "Stretch your arms aside!" I roared at Max, apparently to his chagrin.
    Since the lethal metal was pressed to his nape, he obeyed grudgingly and spread his open hands wide.
    "Please, please," he stammered at my sudden explosion of rage.
    "None of your games, Max! It's no go!" I suppressed his attempt to demur at my compulsory measures.
    The weather slightly calmed. The frequency of forked flashes lessened, and the frightful peals were booming more or less distantly.
    Thus, I could continue my heart-to-heart talk, not very forcing my voice and conforming to the swishing of the rain in front of us and behind our backs, where the murky emptiness of the space under the massive girders of the bridge was curtained with the mightily quavering dark-grey waterfalls of the sheeting rain.
    "Look here, trickster," I said to Max adopted a pose of crucifix. "As it was told, there are ten charges in the magazine of this pistol. If we don't agree or you commit any indiscretion, I distribute my ammunition as follows. Two balls will be allotted for your feet, and two next-for your palms. By that, I'll begin my execution; then I shall shoot you through the elbows and knees-it is four balls more. To crown it all, I am shooting off your bollocks, and the last shot I fire straight in your face. How do you like such a scheme?"
    "A worst-case scenario," murmured he.
    "Yes. The worst of it is that I shall implement it," I confirmed. "But you still have an alternative."
    "What would you have me do?" he asked with drooped head and outstretched arms.
    "I bargain on your confession," I acquainted him with my claims.
    "I've done nothing to confess to," he declared daringly.
    I again caught myself at the same desire to cosh on his pate with my gun.
    "Okay, then I set to holing your legs," I decided to put the fear of God into him.
    "No!" exclaimed Max. "You're deluded!"
    "By what?"
    "By coincidence! I was simply watching there!"
    "I appreciate your valor in barefaced lie," I grinned in the darkness. "Yet you were caught in too appropriate a place at the very proper time. You, of course, had gone astray and just found yourself near my house?"
    "I haven't said so. I don't deny my intention to spy on you, but I did no deed."
    "In other words, you affirm that you've been hoaxing me with your masquerade for fun, and that your tools are not evidence. You still cannot recognize your flop even now, when I collared you. Your game is up, Max! Your only choice is such-either confession or death."
    "What prevents you from killing me after confession?" he mumbled reluctantly.
    "You will be sentenced to life imprisonment, so I mustn't answer for homicide. I shall record all that you'll tell me, and the police will institute proceedings against you on the ground of my proofs inculpating you as a defendant."
    He opened his mouth to blurt out something about "castles in Spain" and one bird in the hand that was worth two in the bush, yet remembered just in time who was who.
    He would never have pleaded guilty to his crimes, but for my wiles giving him a prospect of going out of the critical situation. He clearly understood that I sought vengeance for all the villainous acts perpetrated by him; therefore, he could rather venture to make a desperate attempt to attack me when I got assailable enough for an instant, were his plight absolutely hopeless.
    As a typical Russian, Max did not trust legislation and jurisprudence, and he was not fazed by my threat to sue him for anything, prosecuting him by law; quite the contrary, the possibility of remaining within the law seemed to him an opportunity to evade paying for his criminal offences.
    Instead of pulling the trigger, I had pressed on two levers of his psychology, which had put his mind in motion. One was his fear of his life; another was a hope to extricate himself from the extremely dangerous circumstances and disengage from the unmasking collision unharmed and, maybe, unpunished.
    At present, the chief thing for him was to become free, while afterwards, this dodger would have blindsided me and finished me off in order to pinch my cellular phone with the recording of his confession.
    *
    My explanation, obfuscating my true intentions, looked like both a solution of his problem today and a chance to preclude the menace in future, and Max swallowed the bait.
    "Well, suppose I gave evidence, what then?" he showed the first signs of vacillation. "Do you really let me go?"
    "On certain conditions," I impaired his shaky steadiness still more. "My decision will be conditioned by your frank avowal of guilt."
    "How will you know that I don't fib?" he put out feelers, as he was firmly convinced of impossibility of uncovering his backstage mysteries.
    "Had I not known the truth you wouldn't be snared," I reminded him of his false step in the street when he could make a bolt for it and missed the moment to take to flight. "There was a corpse in the bathroom before me the last time I saw you. Why do you think I've succeeded in searching out the former dead body?"
    "But in Jerusalem you believed in my death?" he crowned his affirmation with a mark of interrogation.
    "That's right; your suicide was very believable, sooth to say."
    "Then why? Was anything wrong with it?"
    "Almost nothing, except that it was overly stagy. In the course of time, this peculiarity began to offend my sense of beauty. Anyway, it is of no importance now, so let me ask questions and listen to your answers. Don't forget, the muzzle of my gun is aimed at your head, and I shan't hesitate to pull the trigger. Is it clear?"
    I was browbeating him quite deliberately.
    He must have been aware that just his life was at stake here, on the slightly swamped bank of this black Styx rapidly rushing past us at arm's length towards the storming Mediterranean Sea. I had to make him perceive a spine-chilling anticipation of my sudden shot in case of his prevarication, otherwise he would have tried to get out of relieving his soul till the end of time, while I was bound to be at work three hours later.
    "What do you want to ask me?" his voice sounded under the dismally low vault of our secluded spot. "What was my object in staging my own death?"
    "No," I answered, prefacing my negation with a new tap of the barrel on his crown. "I want to hear what you did in March of this year in the town where I was staging The Seagull."
    "Why are you sure that I was there?" he faltered out his defensive question, for my question floored him, and my reference to the place of his first crime had taken him unawares, notwithstanding my preceding hints.
    "Don't worry about it," I said with taunt. "My perspicacity is the matter of my intellect. You should care about an explanation of your deeds there."
    "What "my deeds" are you implying?" he attempted to stand fast, gaining time for finding a subterfuge.
    "Cease jibbing, Max," I warned him. "Or else, for a start, I'll smash your face with the handle of my pistol. I'm asking you once again-what did you do in that evening in March."
    Here Max caught it on the back of his head as an advance, which made him more compliant.
    "Well, well, I was there," he confirmed my conjecture.
    "I construe this as your voluntary confess. So, you had been shadowing us from the very theater?"
    "No, it was unwise. I waited in the porch of her house. Thence I could watch the bridge without freezing in that damned blizzard."
    "That is, you'd learnt when we came out of the theater by your cellular."
    "Not "you", but "she". Your presence might be an obstacle; however, you left her just in time."
    I snarled muffledly, yet restrained my fury. It was too late to tear my hair in futile hindsight. If ifs and ands were pots and pans, as they say in hellfire.
    "Why it was she?" I asked, hardly unclenching my teeth. "Why had you chosen Mary?"
    "You gave so many interviews to the press that it was easy to choose your best performer," he stabbed the next dagger into my soul. "I promised you the death in despair, and I kept my promise."
    "Indeed. Then it was really blank despair," I admitted my vulnerability, wrestling with the Tempter in my heart, since I was sorely tempted to mutilate him ruthlessly with slaughterer's cruelty. "So, you had descried her from afar. What was your next step?"
    "When you turned to go away, I went towards her," Max began to recount his adventures.
    "To kill her?"
    "I was still undecided whether it was worth doing or not," he described his short road to his first murder. "But she didn't even vouchsafe a glance to me, and her arrogance made me angry."
    If my plot were less intricate, I would rather have beaten his brain out at this instant.
    "What's further?" I whipped on the mad narrator. "Had you pushed her?"
    "In essence, I slightly shouldered her aside out of the way. But the pavement was very narrow because of snowdrifts, and she slipped on the ice. Here's how it happened."
    I heard him out and summarized:
    "You had pushed Mary off the slope, and she had perished. The rest you may leave for investigation in court."
    "The leading lady was dead, but still the premiere wasn't cancelled," he sighed, expressing sorrow for this occasion.
    "Such is theater," I endorsed his regret. "We made do with what we had, and the production was successful in the upshot. Your plans thus were thwarted."
    "Successful, but without your unique Arkadina," Max couldn't hold back a remark.
    That was extremely imprudent of him to re-open my old sores in the moment when I toyed with the idea of enriching my plot with embellishment of some unnoticeable atrocities in memory of my great actress killed by this talentless stinker ferreting out like a weird wraith who was a person of the utmost importance in my life in a certain situation-with the aim of depriving me of my chief prop and cutting the ground from under my feet.
    Nonetheless, I did not succumb to temptation to belabor him and bump him off in such a way, because the thorough elaboration of the scenario was an asset in my line of action. The motto of the blazon of my buckler read "Measure for measure", therefore I ruled out the very possibility of any evidence of violent death.
    The vodka had been bought by me as an essential part of the whole scheme, and now its hour had come.
    With my left hand, I took one plastic glass out of the pile in the opened sack lying in the enlarging puddle at Max's soles.
    "Yes, without," I said icily. "That's why you shall drink a toast to her talent."
    "Excuse me," Max stumbled over my offer. "Why should I like to drink to anything?"
    "Why do you think that I request you?" I nailed him down. "I promised I'd let you go on some conditions. It is my condition."
    "Do you want me to get drunk?"
    "I don't care a damn whether you will be sloshed or become a model of sobriety," I lied in his throat. "And for lack of time, I must clarify our relations. I don't beg a favor of you-I'm ordering you to do what I say. If you intend to bicker, I'll screw your neck and cast the body into the river. Savvy?"
    "Of course," he answered humbly and took the glass that had appeared before his nose.
    "Broach it with your thumb and empty this goblet in honor of the great actress," I commanded him. "Are you ready? Then repeat after me. I drink it to the undying glory of Mary-"
    "I drink it to the undying glory of Mary," he pronounced gruffly, raising the glass to his lips.
    "Whom I had sent into eternity-" I proceeded.
    "Whom I had sent into eternity," he echoed my words in a halting voice, boiling with powerless ire.
    "May I be consigned to perdition for this forever," I ended the first toast.
    "With your loaded gun, you can enjoy bulling me," he remarked in dudgeon.
    "Your curses came home to roost," I agreed. "Be so kind as to quote me verbatim."
    My comportment was polite enough when I asked him to carry out my order, yet for some reason, Max cracked instantly.
    "May I be consigned to perdition forever," he squeezed out the needful text.
    "For this," I prompted.
    "For this," he repeated biddably.
    Then I quoth, "No heeltaps!", after the example of the Raven croaking "Nevermore!", and Max drained his bumper in one draught without clinking. (It would be very difficult, true, to clink plastic glasses with any convivial boon companion that might be invited to drink together.)
    *
    "After that, you'll hale me to the calaboose, and I shall be locked in your slammer as a dipso," he propounded his version of the further events.
    His prognosis sounded alluring, but to his deep regret, I was brooding over another plan, much more deplorable and disastrous for him and quite feasible, provided that I should be plausible enough to mislead him during my inquest and not allow any bloomer to undeceive him till it was all over bar the shouting.
    "Perhaps this solution will be preferable later," I uttered, purportedly mulling over such a scenario. "But what's the hurry? My guess is that Mary was first, yet not last."
    "Shit!" he swore, throwing the empty glass in the raging dark stream running through the Stygian gloom of our broad vault enclosed with two blank walls of the endlessly falling noisy water.
    "Are you surprised?" I resumed my interrogation, though I got inwardly somehow petrified after his admission of guilt, for it followed from this that there was no fallacy in my deductive logic, and consequently, Joseph, Mark, and my Elsie were also killed by this vindictive degenerate, whose murders I could have prevented if I had trusted to my sensitivity to artificiality in that bloody loo in Jerusalem. "It goes without saying, I know what and when you did. I need not adjure you by Azazel to open your heart to me; I only wish to hear your state of facts, and without dissembling any essential details."
    "I have sufficient imagination to pitch many believable yarns," Max announced, heartened with vodka, not without defiance. "The only thing is that I can't grasp what you are hinting at."
    "Don't tell me you have failures of memory," I called him to order by a knock on his noggin. "Remember how you brought Joseph to his grave."
    "Who is this Joseph?" he tried to disown his next achievement-and made a bob of his head from my second knock. "Ouch!"
    "I wouldn't advise you to tease me," I informed him in parallel to my chief deterrent. "If I lose my patience, you lose any chance to survive this evening."
    "Ah, it is that wanker who once slated my acting," Max incidentally characterized the carping critic, who had had the imprudence to mention his wooden performance in a notice with scarifying impartiality. "As this haughty know-all was seized by apoplexy, it was a judgment on him for haughtiness."
    I again stifled my sincere feelings and did not fetch him a blow.
    "I do not need your rants about your attitude to him," I crushed his diatribe in the egg. "I expect you to lay bare your technological methods."
    "What methods?" he dug in his heels.
    "Of your ideal murder," I brought him to his senses. "Breathe a word about his natural death, and it will be your last word."
    "I didn't say it," he hastened to concur with me. "There was some fortuitous confluence of circumstances there. In that suffocating heat, everyone subject to hypertensive crisis might flop down with an apoplectic fit."
    "Thus, you were at the square by the theater?"
    "I was, but you did not recognize me. I am a bad actor, according to your attestation at the counsel of that production where I was chucked out from the cast. I am bad, but yet, I was twice beside you and even talked with you, and twice you were completely taken in. Am I right?"
    "I see, you await my applause for your disguise," I had kept myself from boxing his ear. "However, I am not disposed to argue your abilities after your deeds. If you motivate your envy with my iniquity, to exculpate yourself, I'm disinclined to open a debate about exonerating you in any way, shape, or form. Whatever impelled you to crime, it is you who committed it."
    "It wasn't crime!" suddenly exclaimed Max in a fit of pique.
    "Really?"
    "Yes, really!" he flared with virtuous indignation. "You all were driving me into the corner, you all together, fucking successful lucky dogs with your fucking talents! What the hell did you like to rub my nose in my mediocrity, you gifted masters? Why did that Moscow criticaster excoriate me and write that I'm incapable of creating any character, with all his fucking fastidiousness? Why were you fucking artists supplanting me from your fucking art?"
    "Because you're a cipher that occupies someone else's place on the stage," I said sharply. "Theater is not almshouse."
    An ominous pause hung in the rainy murk of our solitude after this slap in the face, and it seemed to me that Max would pounce on me.
    "Pistol indeed is a trump," he snarled through his teeth.
    "Were I without pistol, you would be beaten up forthwith," I damped his angry ardor. "You shouldn't be spoiling for a fight, since I'm more than a match for you. Don't kid yourself: I am physically stronger and much mightier as a fighter."
    "Might is right?" he asked in a quarrelsome tone.
    "Do you imagine I like it? You can huff and puff, but you've gone so far that it is my duty to remove you from my life."
    "Kill me then."
    "I would do it with great pleasure, but we are here within a few steps of the police station. If they don't arrest you immediately, your exit from Israel will be closed in any case on suspicion of murder. Frankly, I hope you won't escape our local clink."
    "And you demand my frankness in exchange for yours-for such as this?"
    "Either imprisonment or ignominious death-you have an option."
    "Then what about death penalty in Israel?"
    "Repealed."
    "What a pity!" Max put all his sarcasm into his acrimonious expression of regret, trying, of course, to find a moment for use of his weighty spanner as a cudgel, still in vain.
    "Maybe, you'll be an exception," I distressed him for greater convincingness, as I did not give up the thought of accomplishing my plan, and I should have said every word so as to make an impact in pushing Max forward to his full self-condemnation. "How had you conceived the very idea of murdering Joseph in Israel?"
    "I chanced upon information of the conference in Tel Aviv in the Internet," he told me. "I thought I could have taken this opportunity to see you and devise something special for you."
    "Whence could you know that I should appear near the theaters?"
    "It was simple supposition. I knew about his presence at the conference, and in fact, he was my direct target. But I supposed you might meet with him there; then you both would go to the theater together. As you see, I didn't mistake."
    "What did you prepare to do?"
    "I had another idea at first. Yet when I heard your talk about his hypertonia and saw his red face, it came into my head that I should rather play on his weak point. You counted me unable to fix your direction, but to extemporize I was able, wasn't I?"
    "I don't think you acted extempore at the second rendezvous."
    "How, in your opinion, did I act?"
    "Very preparedly. You had learnt when and where our next meeting was appointed, whereas the illness of Joseph suggested a method of killing him to you."
    "He died of a stroke, and nobody can prove any crime in such a public death."
    "What drug it was?" I asked him unexpectedly.
    "Why drug?"
    At last, I startled him.
    "By drug, you wanted to provoke the rising of his blood pressure."
    "How is it possible to do at the square crowded with people?" he still tried to withstand me.
    "You can explain "how" without me. As though jostling, you scratched his arm with a small syringe-something of this sort."
    "Well, let's assume that you've guessed. Anyhow, a scratch doesn't cause such a sudden death."
    "Yes, it was only a fuse. Therefore, you kicked your heels beside him and held in readiness your bottle of drinking water. The trick was in the chemical composition of your water that you kept handy to offer him."
    "Your subjunctive mood is not a telling argument to shift your responsibility for poisoning him on someone else," tittered Max. "If anything you gave him that bottle by your own hands, without asking me what was inside. It will be qualified as an unpremeditated murder."
    "If one talker doesn't hold his tongue, his death will be a premeditated murder," I attempted to cow him.
    "I doubt you have the guts to kill anybody in cold blood," he said in unforgivable self-delusion, for I planned just it. "In this incident, my guilt is absolutely unprovable. For the matter of that, I have a right to fill my bottle with the liquid to my taste. As to me, I did not compel him to drink this liquid, nor did I persuade you to take my bottle, and so, at the worst, I may be charged with forgetfulness."
    His impertinent discourse indisputably contained a grain of truth. Submitted for consideration, all his cases would have bumped into impossibility of proving his presence on the scene of crime, to say nothing of his participation; thus, all my accusations against him were doomed to rejection in default of evidence. Each death had its perspicuous causes, and each accident was trivial enough: Mary stumbled on the ice; Joseph overheated in the sun; Mark drank wood alcohol; Alice was gassed in sleep.
    If I had presented my recording to the police, there was no certainty in taking proceedings against Max in the case based on an admission of guilt under pressure and pain of death, inasmuch as such a case would be dismissed subsequently.
    The son of bitch also understood it, but he couldn't help swanking about his permissiveness, while he should have kept mum about any possible positive variants of his lot in the future. Since his provocative behavior threatened to spoil my plans, it behooved me to quell his snootiness and make him more faint-hearted and timorous.
    "If so, I'll pass my own sentence on you," I replied to his effrontery, pressing the barrel of my gun to his nape and bowing his head by force until he leaned forward so slantwise that he rested his hands against the ground. "You seem to burn the desire to land yourself in trouble. Okay, I am ready to change my mind and cope with due punishment without cops."
    "Wait, wait!" Max panicked. "What must I say in proof of my guilt?"
    "You must enumerate your actions step by step."
    "May I be on my knees at the least, not on all fours?"
    "Why? Anything discomforts you?"
    "I don't find that amusing. I'm kneeling in the cold water, and I shall be taken with rheumatism," he complained of his unenviable position.
    "Don't be such a mollycoddle!" I inspirited him. "There is an excellent remedy for your future polyarthritis in our prison whither you will be sent. You are to be inevitably sentenced to penal servitude; meanwhile, this charitable institution has an occupational therapy for you. Hard work in its quarry, where you will be baking from morning till night in the full blaze of the scorching sun, will cure you of all your maladies very soon."
    "I prefer the sun to the water," he accepted my frightfulness.
    "Speak," I said, letting him rise to his sitting posture. "Step by step."
    "I had a syringe, indeed," he began, again amenable to reason. "I couldn't inject any sufficient quantity of my drug, therefore I prepared that bottle. I'd read that from the medicine raising blood pressure the throat might be parched with thirst, and I had concocted the strong solution with fruit flavor. By itself, the drug was more or less harmless in principle, except for its wrong use and dose. In the case of that fault-finder, I fortunately had a chance to combine both factors, yet it was sheer luck and a marvel that everything had gone swimmingly, and not in spite of your presence, but owing to it."
    "Isn't that enough to accentuate my contribution to your vileness?" I inquired crossly. "To put it shortly, you had come to the second theater to kill Joseph, so what you did was just a murder. Do you agree with such a formulation?"
    "Well, I do," admitted Max. "Yes, I committed this murder, why not?"
    I slightly squatted down and took the second plastic glass of vodka out of my supply of spirits.
    "Then let's go on with our funeral feast." With these words, I thrust the glass under his nose. "Bottoms up, as before. Drain it to the dregs, though there are no dregs in this weaker vessel."
    "Between us, I never was bibulous one," Max warned me.
    "My congratulations. In contradistinction to you, I am an occasional drinker."
    "I mean the danger of my intoxication. What to do if I get uncontrolled?"
    "If you venture to resist authority in my person, I must resort to force. Believe me that I have the strength to lug you as a log to the police station. It depends on your demeanor whether you would be brought there unharmed or dragged unconscious."
    "Thank you for uprightness," Max obviously desponded. "Do you offer to drink it to the health of that fat freak?"
    "Call yourself "freak", motherfucker!" I corrected him rudely. "And his health was too sapped with your treatment to drink to it. Propose a toast to his erudition and intellectualism razed by you from our culture."
    "Ought I to repeat all of it?"
    "Try."
    "I drink this fucking shot of liquor to the fucking fame of this walking encyclopedia of hairsplitting and to this renowned quibbler waffling on about balderdash!" Max raised his plastic beaker. "Are you satisfied with such a toast?"
    "So-so. It is somewhat abstruse, but tolerable."
    "May I drink now?"
    "Please."
    Max knocked back his "slug"-and replenished his blood alcohol content that was intended to allay investigators' suspicions of violence afterwards.
    *
    Meantime the raging rain abated in some degree while I was eliciting the factual details of the murders figured out by me. I noticed this change because the heavily rumbling trucks riding across the bridge above us started thundering more loudly at the joints.
    It became lighter in our niche from the lit street-lamps looming in single file down the river in the rainy mist; and by their light, the footpath already resembled a shallow brooklet flatly running against the river-stream towards the bridge and flowing down the slopes into the Yarkon.
    Giving Max to drink, I likely did him good service, as the weather was rather unpropitious for his prayer-pose in the purling brook laving his legs and at times merging into the waves of the rushing torrent splashing against the bank in the darkness. I was doubtful, true, that after his warming, he would not cool down entirely.
    Withal, I had three doses more for three swigs of my captive steeped in the overflow, and I could scarcely foretell how heatedly might he conduct himself in consequence of swallowing so much vodka at one gulp every time. Apart from loosening his tongue, alcohol was little by little leashing his aggressiveness and bellicosity, so I must have vigilantly controlled him in order to prevent his sudden hysterical attack if such an intention had arisen in his befuddled brain.
    Till now, however, my spiel was going successfully, and Max, fidgeting on his knees in the rainwater, looked very forlorn and squashed. Although I did not trust the feigned humility and the mendacious cringing of this snake in the grass, I flattered myself I had constrained the poisonous viper to bite its own tail and feel its own venom in the soul desperately beating against the cage of its awareness in agony of fear.
    "It hardly gives any pleasure to swill vodka without snack," said Max after a pause.
    "Don't strain at a gnat," I responded with a cynical gibe. "A nip of divine beverage will deliver you from diffidence. Otherwise you are so dithering about your confession that I should have bought a liter of spirit for you."
    "I would sooner die than drink a liter," he grumbled seriously.
    "What does it matter? I'm fond of a dram, so the spirit won't lose its strength for nothing. Anyway, it's late to regret my lost opportunities, therefore let's revert to our origin subject."
    "I thought it is all over," he said with the first signs of inarticulateness in pronouncing words.
    "Quite the contrary, now we approached the episode that had given me the clue to the mystery. The third accident was a turning-point, for just it had inclined me to suspicion from mysticism."
    "What do you say about?" Max used his question clumsily as a blind.
    "Till then, I believed superstitiously in accidentalness," I proceeded with my relation in a confidential tone. "But truly, three mishaps in succession may involuntarily call any coincidence in question."
    "Are we talking about some real incident?" he asked, posing in tipsiness.
    "The incident is so real that the task to relate it with your biography is quite feasible."
    In surprise, he even turned his head to look at me, yet his temple came up against the metal barrel, and his jerk remained unfinished.
    "Come on, Max, remember your exploit!" I urged him. "Why must I jog your memory? It was a feat-to meet with a witness of your shame, right?"
    "You damned snooper," whispered Max in a voice choked with emotion, nowise positive.
    "I'm glad you take my hints with such irascibility. You liked to consider yourself an inscrutable fate; and now, I shall be delighted to debunk a conceited nonentity."
    "Everyone is wise after the event," he flung the stinging words of the proverb over his shoulder, in fact in my face.
    "Maybe, I am not the wisest "everyone"," I answered coldly. "But eventually, I made out what insuperable kismet was governing my bad luck, and who might arrange all those unfortunate coincidences."
    "Well then, what episode is on the agenda?"
    "Shakespearean. It would be interesting to hear how Hamlet was poisoned in actuality."
    "By chrestomathy, it was a scratch of the poisoned rapier."
    "No, the scratch was avowedly used by you in the case of Joseph. Meanwhile, Hamlet had been found dead, and he didn't die by natural death."
    "What has it to do with me?"
    "It would have nothing to, but he mentioned one fellow-student who invited him to meet after the rehearsal. That pastime entailed his absence in the theater before the spectacle and a telephone call from the morgue later. What if he called you by name?"
    "My name means nothing to others," Max could not bite back a remark in his drunken touchiness.
    Judging by the speed of his intoxication, presently he might begin to envenom a quarrel, while I had to confine myself to the infliction of superficial injuries at most, not maiming him till the end.
    As was said, I had made up my mind to pay him in his own coin, and I did not aspire to win a brief notoriety as an avenger executing the sentence of death passed by him on the villain, whose guilt he is unable to prove. Yes, I wanted to kill him, but by the rules of this game, his death ought not to have led to new woes. I shouldn't have been his fifth victim through quick temper, for I wished I could dispatch him in such a way that in the sequel, I was out of danger and peril of reaping the fruits of my folly.
    I had no right to lose my cool during my execution, and the drunker Max was getting, the more strictly I must have followed advisability in my actions, because anger was the worst adviser in my plan of vengeance.
    "Indeed, your name is not well-known anywhere, except that it is entered in the list of the expelled students in one institution of higher education," I brought him a piece of bad news. "To your regret, I was curious enough to learn when you graced our Academy with your presence, and who was studying at the same course with you."
    "What of it?"
    "Suggestive information. Besides, he characterized his erstwhile chum as a talentless actor. Among artists such as these, you bear the palm."
    "That is a matter of opinion," he disputed my judgment in a sepulchral voice.
    "At that point we are all unanimous for some reason. It is understandable that you hated Joseph and me, but I could not think you were capable of killing your friends."
    "I have no friend in this fucking world of art," Max said, still more sulky under the influence of drink. "Especially, I am loathing handsome jeune premiers with their hubris."
    "Ordinary exterior isn't an obstacle to success in contemporary theater, and loveliness isn't a great merit. What has real significance is talent and mastery; the rest may be created. So don't try to justify your feats with your ugly mug, for you are deliberately exaggerating your external monstrosity."
    It was not a backhanded compliment to his appearance that had no salient features yet was rather prepossessing as his type of a jovial stumpy "good chap" presupposed for the parts of bright servants and comical knaves (or cameo roles of sly innkeepers and simpleminded hooligans) he acted from the dramatic school up to that miscarried trial of strength in a title-role, which had done away with his actor's ambitions and turned this backslapper into a ferocious hater of theater folk.
    The aim of my correction was to stress the monstrous deformity of his atrociously revengeful soul, though his repentance would have been insufficient to atone for his crimes after he had imperiled the lives of my girlies with his vindictiveness. Here was a rabid predator before me, whatever penitential speeches he made under the barrel of my gun. I had resolved once and for all to wipe this wild beast off the face of the earth, and the only problem was not to blemish my good work with criminal negligence.
    "By the by, as we have touched on the subject of motivation, explain, please, what wrong he did you to kill him out of revenge," I threw out a challenge to his wounded vanity to draw him out. "Probably it was not only his comeliness that had caused this murder?"
    "The question is whence you concluded that any crime took place at all," Max parried my accusation.
    "Cumulative evidence."
    "It is circumstantial evidence, however, not credible. You can't buttress it by facts."
    "Even so, I divined who was a culprit of his accidental death. Accordingly, it is not a court examination now, and I had brought you here to squeeze a confession from you. If you intend to beat about the bush, I'll be forced to stimulate your sincerity by very cruel means. How do you like a fracture of your arm by way of illustration-with dislocation of elbow out of joint?"
    "You have no right-" bristled Max.
    "I have," I cut him short. "The suspect resisted arrest; there was no other way to stem him-something like this. You are fully in my power, Max, and my patience is exhausted. So what is your choice-truth or pain?"
    "It's Hobson's choice," Max grunted. "Well, I don't deny the fact of our meeting. But who knew that in his glass alcohol would be counterfeit."
    "Aha, you hope to represent it as a deception of some cheating barmaid," I appraised his version of the incident. "You did not pour that fake hooch that is you couldn't prepare to poison him intentionally. Hence, you might be in his place; it was simply your good luck that fate decreed otherwise. And by the mere chance, you met with him a week before my most important premiere, whereas he just performed the name-part in this production. What a lot of mere fortuities! Are you in the know that the premiere had passed off triumphantly despite everything?"
    "I heard of it," he deigned to answer me. "But you had nobody else for the part of Hamlet, no understudy in the cast."
    "It was a sheer fluke, too. Fortunately, one actor once played Hamlet in the past and turned out capable of enacting the role in my staging. It was, of course, compromise, but nonetheless, I had saved the spectacle with such a replacement. You apparently hit the ceiling then, since your murder was futile."
    This time no refutation of the word "murder" ensued-Max only snorted to show his disagreement with my definition "futile".
    "You were satisfied, nevertheless," I interpreted his disdainful snort, "because you killed him for appeasing your envy. Your vengeance on me was the same envy. You always envied our abilities and success, for you're an envier hating every neighbor gifted with an artistic talent that he has not. In essence, you fudged up a glib excuse of your hatred when you conceived the idea of revenge. You were obsessed by envious malice to all the artists endowed with those merits, which you vainly coveted, and your project just gave you liberty of action. You killed two birds with one stone, liquidating my best Arkadina and long-awaited Hamlet, as at the same time, you struck out two great talents and masters of the stage from art. No, you did it only partly on my behalf, since how else could you exercise your personality? You enjoyed destroying their lives, you freak of nature!"
    In a short respite between my wrathful tirades, I noticed some fading of the rainy noise, whereupon the wheezy gurgling of the dashing water came to the fore.
    "Yes!" Max unexpectedly ejaculated in the duskiness at my feet. "Yes, it was enjoyment to kill them! If it were in my power, I would slaughter all those fucking stars and idols of the public!"
    "Then you would burn all the theaters," I added ironically.
    "Yes!" he cried out, slightly inebriated. "Your vile theater must be burnt down, with all its stages and halls! To a cinder!"
    "Together with its spectators and performers?"
    "Yes! If I could, I would incinerate both all buffoons and all worshippers gawking agape at their antics! And after that, I'd be cutting capers on the ashes!"
    "I see you're a prankster," I commented upon his outburst of frenzy, though comment was superfluous. He was intolerant of someone's glory-fame-success-prosperity-mastery-gift-talent to such an extent that the detestation and rancor consuming him were headier than the vodka swallowed by him. "What about cinema, in that case? Have you any constructive offer to submit to our vox populi? Must all the films be also committed to the flames as well as all the studios? Aren't you going to place a ban on all the TV-serials on top of everything?"
    "It was my mistake to adjourn your death till a mortal blow," Max panted.
    At present, his genuine candor emanated from him as an aura of burning hatred searing his soul.
    "I should have taken your life without postponement a year ago," he blamed himself for his shortsightedness.
    "There I agree with you," I compounded his grief, listening to the pattering rhythm of the rain and to the sobs of the seething stream. "But I am live, while Mark is dead. That is why your third toast will be proposed to him, or rather to his unperformed inimitable Hamlet."
    I handed Max the third plastic glass, and he had not the courage to refuse.
    "Do you want me to say something?" Max asked, opening his third vessel (or one of the vials of his wrath he had no opportunity to pour out).
    "Nothing but "to Mark". Drink it in one draught, and let's move further."
    "Mark didn't think much of me as an actor," Max found occasion to rebuke his successful colleague for exactingness. "How could I take a liking to him?"
    "What you felt for him had another name. You considered that his acting was fair to middling, and that nobody gave your potentialities a proper appreciation. It was you who deserved to represent Hamlet, not he, and so you rose up against injustice."
    "Against a biased opinion of me," Max protested my assumption. "You all are exploiters of available skill, but who will condescend to unapparent greatness?"
    "Art is long, life is short," I quoted a famous dictum. "So-"to Mark"."
    "To Mark in Hell," he said and threw back his head to empty his hundred-gram goblet.
    If I had not known for certain that he was condemned to drain his cup to the lees, I would have smashed his face with my gun in a flash after this toast.
    Yet devising what I should do in the end of our psychological colloquy, I was anxious only about our solitude for half an hour at the most.
    The pouring rain around conduced to our seclusion here, in the darkness under the bridge, and I hoped it would last long enough.
    *
    "I must mark your reticence, Max," I reproached the murderer being still unscathed. "Till now, you haven't been duly plain with me. I mean you haven't declared outspokenly that you are a perpetrator of any murder. Meanwhile, I have one confirmation of your participation in it, and this irrefutable evidence I can advance as a proof positive of your guilt."
    "I wonder what it is," Max enquired insolently, for he, naturally, was uninformed of that telephone number written on the title page of Mark's part.
    "Don't be too sure of your impeccability. You aren't as invulnerable as it seems to you."
    "Come, come, I'm intrigued."
    Now his intoxication got more perceptible, notwithstanding his nervous strain not allowing him to grow slack, because in expectation of an instant of my absentmindedness, his readiness for a sudden assault kept him on the alert, maintaining the state of his relative sobriety.
    It was understandable that soon vodka would go to his head and break the resistance of his will, after which he would run from one extreme to another, viz. from his cowardly submission he might pass to defiant rowdiness out of bravado. As I was afraid to make a mistake shedding light on what I was going to commit under cover of darkness, I couldn't permit such unruliness.
    His last murder was a blade stabbed me to the very heart. For the umpteenth time, I got into a wax at the same thought of Alice's death, clenching my teeth and fists in a cramp of unbearable ferocity. I was thirsty to maul him like a savage and torment him like a sadistically cruel torturer, but even then, nothing could quench my bloodthirstiness, as he had bereft me of the very core of my heart that had become a gaping wound of aching void, incurable and burning with excruciating intractable pain.
    This shitty ham had branded an ineffaceable bleeding mark in my soul with his crime, and such a burn was supposed to cicatrize into a scar, maybe, only in the remote future.
    Nevertheless, I was forced to stick to the rules of my dangerous game; otherwise, I jeopardized my chances of success in my subtle scheme of an ingenious solution, which had been invented on condition that everything would go off smoothly, without transgressing the law by anybody.
    "Okay, let's analyze the following episode," I put him down. "As far as I can judge, Mark did you a good turn before his death."
    "I don't remember any turn."
    Max was evidently taken aback by my knowledge of this fact.
    "I have different ways to refresh your memory, and I'll begin with the way of persuasion. How do you think could I reach a conclusion that there was someone's evil will behind it all? You asked him a favor, and he did you one."
    "What favor?" bleated Max. "Why have you decided that I needed a favor?"
    "I drew an inference and hazarded a conjecture."
    "It is groundless."
    "I must bring to your notice, Max, the fact, on which my analysis is founded. On the copy of his part, I found a familiar telephone number."
    "So what?"
    "The problem is that this number was taken by him from my cellular phone. And very soon, the owner of the number had died poisoned with gas in her sleep. By a strange coincidence, the misfortune overtook her in the evening of my premiere."
    "It is no concern of mine," Max declined my hint. "I am not responsible for gas-stoves in your Israel."
    "Did I mention Israel as the scene of action?" I asked, professedly amazed.
    "No, but-"
    "But cease procrastinating, Max. After you have confessed to three crimes, why are you balking at adding the fourth one to them? Even convicted with all the rigor of the law, you won't be sent to scaffold or gallows, while manual labor in the quarry of our penitentiary will make a man of you."
    "I can't grasp what you are talking about," he did not share my proposition to look on the bright side.
    "Then I shall hammer my arguments into your loaf with the handle of my pistol. And I'll be drumming it into your thick skull until you begin to use your stupid brains and give me an irrefragable answer. To you is it clear?"
    "Clear as mud. You want to compel me to slander myself."
    "And to cast a slur on your immaculate reputation," I mocked him. "I'll tell you what, don't push your luck. Or else you may remain here with two holes in your cranium, and after a while, I shall present a report of my accidental discharge with the attached bullets and cartridges. You most likely will be registered as a victim of the war of our criminal clans; it's as simple as that. The stakes are very high for you, because mafia, you know, acts unceremoniously."
    "If you could shoot me, you'd have put a bullet in my brains long ago," Max sniffed at my threat. "You're accustomed to exploit us actors to pull your chestnuts out of the fire. You're an expert at appropriating our achievements and success. But you're very circumspect when you must risk your neck, you complacent prudential bourgeois!"
    Vodka was gradually taking effect, therefore Max was expressing his still articulate thoughts less distinctly, albeit more manifestly. Now, chafing at my omnipotence, he was eager to speak out, since he suddenly realized that he would not have another occasion to proclaim his home truths about my person tete-a-tete.
    His observation was rather true. Indeed, what prevented me from executing him by shooting if I could kill him with impunity? He, however, misinterpreted the motives of my passivity and overestimated my caution. In the meantime, I pursued my end and had no reason to overpersuade him of my Philistine cowardice. On the contrary, being under a delusion, he played into my hands, sounding off about abstractions and letting off steam instead of offering resistance.
    "Am I to understand that you've made a laudatory speech in my honor?" I extenuated his outrageous behavior. "Judging by what you said, direction of plots seemed so alluring to you that you changed your profession and set up as a stage-director."
    As an answer, I heard his scornful grunt.
    "It is easy to prove your presence in Israel in that evening," I developed my argumentation. "In your passport you have the entry and exit stamps marking the dates of your arrival and departure. You had calculated the hours when my time was engaged, and you appointed an hour of your visit just then, because there is no public transport running on Saturday here but taxi, and she was home. Having her number, you somehow contrived to convince her of some cause for meeting. Say, someone's parcel from Russia for her father, and she simply lives nearer to you, while you have no time to spare, and such like. You saw us together twice in summer, so you knew her name. And half a year earlier, you saw her with her father in that hotel, where you were making inquiries about me, yes? What can you say in justification?"
    "I'll say that you were the first who started it," Max pronounced with distinguishable disorder of articulation. "The enmity originated in your beastliness; I was only equalizing the score."
    "And you did it by killing innocent people?"
    "You killed me, too," he said somewhat solemnly.
    And continued, not trying to express anything, but speaking as from the book:
    "It was much worse than homicide. You had killed my soul then. You had killed all my soul wholly. You made a piece of rotten carrion of it, of my soul. My deathless soul of artist died; it mortified since then; it became rot. What did you expect from me after that? Gratitude? No, you abased me, and you had to pay for your abasement. You should have had to feel the same abjection as I felt-the same mortification of your own soul-the same death of your art in yourself. I only rendered you in equity, as you turned me into a walking corpse, into a ghoul living on blood. How dare you call me a sanguinary monster-after you'd once created this monster with your own hands?"
    Verily, if Max were capable of delivering such a monologue in his role on the stage, I would never have hastened to get shed of him.
    But that was just the point: the reason Max plunged into implementation of his fixed idea in reality was that he lacked the innate quality of living in the realms of fancy, and that he wasn't born to be a true artist realizing all his ambitions in art. As a general rule, creation is based on compensatory mechanisms of imagination, and although a man of action has some rudiments of such substitutions in his psychology, he is much more inclined to aspire to achieve his real ends in real life.
    In Max's place, an artist would have transferred his displaced maniacal moods by means of Freud's sublimation into some character he acted, because what's done cannot be undone and consequently (let's lengthen the aphorism) applied to creative objects. A satisfied desire does not generate passion, does it?
    As to Max personally, he was an example of mediocrity hating talent, that is why, remaining within the bounds of art, I felt an instinctive aversion to him embodying a destructive element of my own creation as a stage-director, whereas his private hypostasis was rousing my most atavistic savagery bordering on cannibalism for some time now.
    "Perhaps my decision was a kind of starter for your vindictiveness," I formulated my resume on the oration of this self-willed scourge of God. "Suppose I took it for granted that you revenged your humiliating expulsion on theater people. But the girl bore no relation to theater."
    "She bore," he refuted my thesis pointblank. "You."
    "That is, the subject is familiar to you?" I took him at his word.
    "Why? I don't catch on," he flung in an incisive tone, as if he tried to incur my anger consciously.
    "It's simple. Your acquaintance with our relations gainsays your statement of your non-interference in this affair heretofore. After I sifted the facts and nabbed you, so to speak, red-handed, your disproof is absolutely unconvincing. I am so curious solely in the interest of scientific certainty. It flatters my self-esteem as a logician if your story does agree with mine."
    "You're unable to comprehend my story!" Max hollered at me in a hissing stage whisper. "You callous smug puppeteer! You discarded me as a busted Punch; you scrapped my devotion to the acting profession on the pretext of my unsuitability; you threw me overboard into the fathomless depth of senselessness-to flounder in that sea of troubles; and what did you think, should I go obediently to the bottom to drown without demur and never return to push you off from your ship into the same abyss of despair to rue that meanness? No! No! No! You must pay! You must repent of your disregard! You must dance to my tune as a marionette hanging by the strings, which this puppet takes for the threads of the Fates! Unlike you, I don't renege on my promises, and at last, you've got your comeuppance for all, for all!"
    As it was characteristic of every bad actor, Max had a penchant for borrowing both lines of plays and pretentious pathos of ranting and raving, but for all that, inveighing against my selfishness, he was very impressive in spewing his castigating invectives.
    It was a great pity that I was limited to an hour of the duration of our intensive intercourse, for the affectation of his pseudo-classic tragic style reminded me of that gruesome scene of weltering in blood in Jerusalem, and I imagined him concluding his vehement monologue by thrusting a Roman sword into his breast, which was altogether out of the question.
    "In a word, you're prevaricating as before," I set forth my essential criticism, pressing the barrel unamiably to his head. "I didn't ask you about your attitude to me. Don't be so cagey, and answer-by what had you put her to sleep? Was it a chloroformed handkerchief?"
    "There is not a scrap of evidence of any crime in her case," he couldn't help gasconading in his drunken pride.
    "Excepting the window and the balcony door. She never closed them."
    "I'm not obliged to know her habits. It would have been better if she had watched her coffee brewing on the burner instead of sleeping," he let the cat out of the bag, and it was controversial enough whether his vigilance got blurred with alcohol or he blew the gaff for kicks, to spite me.
    Anyway, he had inflicted me four severe wounds, two of which were unhealed. At the present moment, I too concentrated on my interrogation to let my attention wander, yet some fugitive phantoms of the visions haunting my memory emerged at times in the subconscious, and the hazel eyes of my beloved, Mary and Alice, were gazing at me from the crass darkness of non-existence.
    It turned out that I was somehow blamed for their violent deaths, and this inexpiable guilt complex, foisted on me by some defective psychopath, again and again ruffled my surface composure, insinuating what brutalities were quite practicable in the given situation when even the muffled noise of the downpour grew louder, and a bifurcated fiery whip of lightning lashed the dark sky far above the stormy sea to an accompaniment of a hollow roll of thunder.
    I was determined to end my investigation ere Max got plastered, seeing that I wished him to croak being woozy, but not stoned. Besides, I was standing now almost ankle-deep in the rising water that might go down into my boots; meanwhile, I did not like the idea of the long night shift with my wet feet.
    "That's just what I thought," I said, taking the fourth plastic glass of vodka. "What else but coffee you could use-how banal you are! It is nothing to boast of, Max. I've deciphered all your tricky schemes without any evidence, and I'll expound my reasoning to the police. It seems to me that they will show a keen interest in those analytic excursions."
    "If anything I prefer a plank-bed in a lock-up to sitting in this fucking puddle," Max had the audacity to reprobate my inhumane method of wringing a confession out of him. "My trousers are wet through here. I'll catch a chill."
    "You may be assured that you won't be ailing because of this evening," I promised him, rather ambiguously.
    And fearing lest he grasp the double meaning of my promise, I continued:
    "After the next drink you'll quickly recuperate, be you pissed and soaked or be you with your ass in deep water."
    "Is it the next toast?" he asked in a loud sneering voice above the hysterical blubbering of the deluge.
    "No, the next toast you'll drink to Alice, whom you killed for no purpose."
    "I had purpose!" he made an indignant protest. "And I've achieved it, my purpose!"
    "In the sense that my heart is broken? Did you mean that, didn't you?"
    "I did," agreed Max, taking the sealed plastic glass out of my hand. "I wanted to ruin your life just as you ruined mine. I wanted to destroy your sham greatness on our bones. I wanted your soul to be ablaze with despair. How well have I redeemed my promise, in your opinion? Succeeded in burning it?"
    By now, he got tight and, frolicking, again tried to tilt his head back to sneer at me face to face, so I again returned his physiognomy to its initial position with my heavy gun.
    "Don't be too frisky, Max," I cooled his Dutch courage. "If my trigger-finger jerks, you sustain an irreparable injury. So then, you had learnt her name when you were poisoning Joseph at the square, but how did you guess that we are lovers?"
    "You both were simply overwhelmed with happiness," Max explained gloomily, unsealing the small plastic container. "As I couldn't endure seeing you so happy, I bore her name in my mind thenceforth-to hit you at this weak spot someday. That dickhead Mark had believed in my fable of our love rivalry for her affection and procured her telephone number for me. While you were willy-nilly forced to stay there in Russia till the premiere, I had plenty of time to visit your doxy in Israel and suffocate her by gas. As in those gas chambers for Jewesses."
    Here Max shortly chuckled, and I understood how drunk he was.
    In any case, his anti-Semitic jeer did not deteriorate his lot according to my irreversible decision, even if he had strangled Elsie by his own hand. Of course, this was past a joke, but it made no difference what sacrilege might aggravate his guiltiness, for no remission of sins would have been the salvation of him in his unforgiveable crimes. I was resolute to exclude the very possibility of obtaining his absolution in the future (in one of the temples of the Russian Orthodox Church, for instance, or in a Catholic cathedral, or in a mosque, or in any pagan fane, pagoda, and heathen sanctuary-it was all the same to me, as his soul was sunk into evil past redemption).
    "It is so good of you not to call her "strumpet"," I remarked acidly.
    "And your last facetious sally will win especial recognition among Israeli cops," I predicted the natural reaction of the natives.
    "I hate Jews," he did not take long to promulgate his views.
    "As well as Americans, Europeans, and Asians, white-, black-, red-, yellow-faced," I expanded the promulgation of his antipathies in his stead. "Nonetheless, contrary to your preferences, you are to drink to an Israeli girl. I hope you're still able to manage another glass?"
    "I'll manage all that you have!" he accepted battle with drunken aplomb and dauntlessness. "Easily! I'm drinking it to the decease of your young mistress in the prime of life and also to her passionate love to you. To her love that you are robbed of-thanks to me. We are quits. Cheers!"
    He guffawed and reclined his head against my stomach to empty the vodka out of the glass right into his maw, and we formed a sculptural group of Pieta as a black silhouette against the dull light from outside, though the outline of my pistol at his temple enabled to tell the difference.
    Then, blending with his victorious cackling, there was heard the gurgling of the liquid pouring into his throat, and I sensed the spasmodic shudders of his body.
    At this moment, I came to regret that, in contravention of my pledge to be indurate, I should not carry into execution my threat and never shoot off his bollocks.
    I was at a loss for words to express my emotional attitude to him, since neither hatred nor abhorrence were apt expressions to my feelings.
    I felt as if my heart became a piece of iced acute pain, and its every beat would shake the frosty chaos of frozen despair filled the gelid space of my sensitive soul. And on every shake, myriads of pointed crystals of sharp ice would prick the stripped raw pulp of my burnt spirit being excruciated by gnawing pangs of piercing cold stinging as red-hot steel needles.
    I execrated Max, and I craved to kill this dastard like a beast of prey, but I could not kill him openly in a transport of rage.
    *
    Meantime Max swigged the next dose of vodka as a glass of spring water. With a sweep of the arm, he threw the crumpled vessel away, and when he reeled after his movement and all but flopped down into the puddle, I realized that he was about to get sozzled and unreceptive to my intimidation.
    I had to hurry in order to use the remains of his consciousness and question him closely before he was out.
    "What's more?" Max shouted, swinging unsteadily. "Is this enough to hale me to your dungeon?"
    "More or less. Say, whom you killed-for record. Frankly and distinctly."
    "Do you think I fear? Please, take it, fucking delator!"
    Max already had one over the eight, and alcohol was turning him into a recalcitrant protester resenting his capture and enslavement. In such a state, as soon as I a bit slackened the reins, he was ready to pitch into me at a venture. He in essence bided his time to strike me with his bag full of iron gizmos-to beat me to death with this weapon after stunning, for only then could he have a chance to save his own skin.
    But at first, he should have risen to his feet, while my task just consisted in keeping him in kneeling position up to the sudden final of our conversation.
    "I listen to you," I spurred him. "Call all your victims by name."
    "Why must I know their names?" he immediately rebelled against my diktat. "That aunt in fur coat had rolled down from the road because you praised her. You said she was your matchless performer of the chief part. You said you'd found your ideal Arkadina, without whom you couldn't stage The Seagull. She was your irreplaceable actress and your hope in that production. So, when I saw your weak point in her, I helped her to slip there, on the brink. I thought the premiere would be cancelled, but I mistook."
    "Tough luck!" I interposed a comment in passing. "You're a born unfortunate. You, however, had rather pushed her with might and main, otherwise she wouldn't have fallen so catastrophically. Mary was too spry to roll downhill if you had simply elbowed her aside incidentally. I bet you had shoved her aside unexpectedly while walking past. As in Rugby."
    "Yes, I did shove her!" yelled Max. "I killed her, your star, yes, yes! And get stuffed!"
    "Well, she is first. What about Joseph?"
    "I killed him, too, if you're such a lover of truth! Are you contented, you fucking myrmidon of kikes?"
    Hereupon, Max burst into profanities, vituperating also "chinks", "niggers", and "shitty Yankee" (the latter, as usual, took the most of Russian scurrilities).
    I slightly tapped with my gun on his head to restrain this crying jag.
    "Moderate your language," I stopped his volley of oaths. "Stash it away for the police."
    "What do you mean? How had I done away with him?" he did not in the least curb his drunken pertness. "You described my trick rightly-it indeed had two stages. My scratch set his hypertonia in motion; then he quenched his thirst from my bottle. Here his pressure flew up; his heart began to thump and throb; and his blood rushed to his brain. Some blood vessel burst, and-oops!-our luminary was extinguished like a fag end. There is such terrible sultriness in Israel."
    "Cease clowning," I told him evenly. "Thus, you killed Joseph by means of a preparation rising blood pressure."
    "Right," Max accepted the hard fact with his former effrontery. "It was my little masterpiece as a stage-director."
    "Okay, he goes second. Tell me intelligibly about the third one."
    "About Mark?" he remembered his fellow-student contemptuously and not without uppishness. "Despicable simpleton! He was a mere tool in my hands, for he took everything on trust, naive chicken. Meanwhile, I never forget offences and never forgive anyone for it."
    "Enough of this," I interrupted him curtly. "Don't digress from the issue. Mark brought the number of Alice to you, and how had you thanked him?"
    "I regaled him with my ambrosia," Max snickered. "We had a heavenly time carousing."
    "Mark wasn't an inebriate. He wouldn't have gone on the binge before the performance. What had you palmed off on him?"
    "Nothing but a sip of spirits. It was only a thimbleful. I treated him to a drink, that's all. It's another matter that this drink turned out counterfeit. Naturally, he felt faint and was hardly aware of what and how. Therefore, I poured some quantity of my invigorating beverage into his mouth. Then I deleted a pair of numbers in his mobile phone and cast it into that big pond. And Mark was left sitting on the bench under the lime-trees. It was very shocking, I think, to lose your Hamlet on the eve of the premiere."
    "I'd survived this loss. But you probably knew what an actor Mark was?"
    "Of course."
    "Yet you killed him after all?"
    "I killed him just for the reason that he was a good actor. He was too good for the earthly life, excessively good, and so he pegged out."
    Max again started sniggering abominably, and I thought that the time was nearly up. Presently, he would become an ordinary dead-drunk swine, so that I should have disposed of my dirty work before the blackout of his muddled brain.
    "Now then, we can go," I summed up. "Concerning your fourth object, you have said your say. I opine that you've spoken out quite fully and explained yourself entirely. One question in the end: aren't you sorry for what you've done?"
    "Not a bit of it!" he evinced no remorse, giggling nervously as before.
    "No pity for them?"
    "Far from it!" was his cheeky response. "Why would I pity a means to an end?"
    "Thou art the object of my hatred," he continued thickly in an elevated archaic style as befitted this momentous moment of his blood feud, "and they all were messages of my hatred to thee. I count them as thy victims, as I killed them in reprisal for thy killing. No, I'm sorry only for one thing."
    "What thing?"
    "My vengeance is incomplete."
    He meant my two girlies not murdered by him, this madman convinced of my long-suffering even after his statement of inextinguishable visceral hatred.
    Because he was a bad actor, he had not an indispensable instinct of creation always telling every true artist to trust the stage-director in his "objectives"-but relying on the integral whole of natural talent in fulfillment of his tasks. He believed in my legend of taking him into custody, and he was omitting the present in anticipation of his attack after standing up to be escorted to the police station.
    He teased me, for he did not fear that I should lose my temper and really resort to force; beside that, he desired to profit by the first and last unique occasion to unbosom himself to me and show me all his brilliance in his requital for my black ingratitude in that saved production.
    At present, he could glory in his strength openly, which afforded him great pleasure, notwithstanding that such a manifestation of the feelings imprisoned in his breast hitherto was supposed to cost him dear; and his intoxication enhanced his reckless bumptiousness.
    "In your cell, you will have enough time to regret your improvidence," I comforted him and took the last plastic glass lying in the water covering the path. "The fifth toast you're drinking to all of them together."
    "You decided to fuddle me," he reacted in a slurred voice to a new dose of vodka appeared before his nose.
    "It is your parting repast before the jail," I said, handing him the glass. "Alcoholic drinks are prohibited behind bars in Israel. Toss off a glass more, then we make for the station."
    He began to tinker listlessly with the sealed cover, while I thrust my Jericho into the holster behind his back. There came a moment of truth now, and I must have had my hands free to bring our rendezvous to a foregone conclusion.
    "I'll carry your tools-for safety's sake," I informed him and pulled the sling of his tarpaulin pouch upwards from under his bent right arm. "Let's swap our loads."
    "You funk," he breathed out in impending prostration of insensibility and reluctantly allowed me to take the loop off his arm.
    Yet, instead of lifting his weighty bag and removing its strap from his left shoulder to free his head, I pulled it back to me so that the canvas strip would lie across his throat.
    "What are you doing?" he wondered flaccidly, unconcerned with my manipulation scarcely distracting him from opening the glass.
    I disdained to reply.
    Instead of answering, I began to act, and my actions took some few seconds.
    Turning the clanking heavy bag hanging between his shoulder blades, I twisted the canvas narrow band that the loop would strangle his throat.
    Then, instantaneously, I fetched him from above a swinging blow on his crown with my fist, or rather with the boneless lower part of my clenched fist so as to avoid leaving a bruise.
    The blow was intended to stun him.
    I had once received such a blow on my head and applied it several times in street fights afterwards, knowing its effect from experience. What I needed was his stupefaction, not unconsciousness, and unexpectedness was the key to success.
    No sooner had he gone limp, having dropped his full cup, than I grabbed him by the neck with my left hand and grasped his trousers on his sacrum under the windcheater with my right bunch of fives.
    Exerting all my strength, I slightly raised the sprawled body and hurled it headfirst into the dark torrent that was rushing half a meter away from me.
    Although the Yarkon was not very deep, I calculated that the weight of his loaded bag would pull him down, and he, dazed by my blow, would go to the bottom on his back and with his legs up till his first breath in the depth.
    Since it was again raining cats and dogs, I could see only the nearest part of the turbulent stream lit by the street-lamps beyond the shadow of the bridge, so I came out from under the massive girders of the broad arches, pulling the hood over my head and looking attentively at the river's surface, muddily-ebullient in the fall of the hard rain.
    Petulantly, I kicked the intact plastic glass of vodka not opened by Max and suddenly thought that I had not seen his face without the wig and false beard, because I had been standing behind his back during our dialogue here.
    Watching, I went on along the footpath for two-three minutes, yet there was nothing on the seething surface but some trifling flotsam and small branches floating down-river.
    Apparently, my calculation was unerring, and Max gulped too much for him to emerge after drowning.
    "What I'm doing?" I repeated his unanswered question aloud in the noise of the driving rain whipping my waterproof jacket from the rear. "I kill you, scumbag!"
    Then I turned to the left and walked up the gentle slope, against the rain lashing my face, towards the road leading to the local decorative port, where the adjacent Yarkon disgorged into the sea.
    *
    The lump of ice did not stirred anymore, and I felt no pain, however this ice had not thawed after the successful completion of my plan.
    The cold fury, which had blazed up like a white freezing flame of homicidal mania at the sight of the disguised perpetrator of my disasters and frozen into a prickly icy cannon-ball of savage fierceness, budging impatiently now and again and excruciating me in the course of interrogating him, became some bulky boulder of glacial apathy taken place of all emotions in my frost-bound numb soul. And the heaviness of my inner glacier was ssuch a weighty load that I could hardly drag my feet along.
    I was not an assassin by nature, but I had led Max to that dark space under the shelter of the bridge to kill him there after prying a confession out of him. It was my first murder, a premeditated, nay, calculated murder withal, for while talking with him I continued pondering the possible variants of execution-to cull the most acceptable method of killing for liquidating this death convict without a hitch.
    By night, the dead body will be carried away by the current to the sand bar in the mouth of the Yarkon or driven to its bank at one of the bends. Certain information about a drowned man will appear in the news, from which I shall learn how the police consider his death-accidental or violent.
    For my part, I did everything to represent it as an unhappy conjunction of circumstances which entailed a train of fatal coincidences, such as a stroll of this drunk Russian tourist rambling in the rain in the park and his fall into the raging river from the slippery slope, whereupon the strap of his bag with heavy steel tools had twined round his neck and in fact drowned him. And indeed, how could he save his life, floundering in the roily waters, if he sank so much vodka within a short time before his inopportune constitutional in such weather? These Russians never know when to stop in their drunkenness!
    In the meanwhile, I was already approaching the area of the port that represented an attracting combination of the pedestrian precinct with many restaurants, cafes, and shops of various kinds, including boutiques, and a rectangular marine for motor-boats and yachts, encircled with the long steps of wooden tribunes and the spacious platforms-squares of the duckboards of quays, beyond the solid half stone railing of which the restless surf was swashing against the huge blocks of the embankment with the two parallel moles of the haven projecting not far into the sea.
    Judging by the increasing mingled bluster of the boisterous sea and thunderstorm, at present, instead of any peaceful swashing, the surging foamy billows rolling to the shore were breaking frantically against the stone rampart of the quays, heavily splashing the waters of their crashed crests over the barriers and washing over the thick planking up to the glass-walls of the shining restaurants.
    When I reached a short lane opening the vista of the marina, in the fitful light of the rare tall lampposts and the surrounding dining halls and coffee-houses, I beheld a solitary launch, moored to the berth by two chains from its bow and stern, rabidly bobbing on the disorderly waves in the relatively defended backwater, while the mounting combers of the tempest, growing somewhere at sea and appearing from the darkness as some gigantic foaming rollers, dashed over the moles time after time, devouring the indestructible piers with rushes of the crushingly boiling water and bursting into the marina through the narrow passage of its entrance.
    It stands to reason that my wish to come nearer to the stormily churned sea and take a walk along the railing as ever was obviously unrealizable now, since there was nothing worse for me before my night shift than getting wet through, even if my outer clothing was wet enough in such a downpour, and I should have drunk a cup of hot coffee and had a bite of food in a snack-bar.
    Not that I really felt cold or there was a real chill in the air, yet the coolness of the ice of my spiritual glacier somehow cooled me from inside, as though my soul was a chilblain still sensing only numbness of frost.
    I wouldn't mind to take some refreshment in one of the bars hereabouts before hoofing it over the town to work as I did usually, but I tarried for a minute to enjoy the rhythmical booming of the whitish tempestuous breakers.
    Looking at the innumerable ranks of the rising curling waves rampaging in the misty illumination of the port showered with the rain and assaulting the bastion of the coast line in endless collisions and breaking, I suddenly realized that, in all likelihood, I should refuse the offer to stage the next play, for I was unable to do anything on the stage after this evening. Until such permafrost remained in my subconscious, I could not retrieve the former freedom of my creative source and restore my attitude to creation.
    Tonight Providence had sent me the rarest happenstance, and I must have blessed my lucky stars that, by sheer serendipity, I happened to catch Max just in time to avert the danger to my daughter and our tot and eliminate the very first cause of this danger forever. Although I had been compelled to administer justice and mete out punishment by myself, it was he who had determined the measure of my requital and left me no choice but to give him short shrift. I'd gained such a vitally important victory that without it any continuation of my life would have been impossible; and with all that, I was far from triumphing in my enemy's defeat, because it seemed to me that his evil did not vanish together with him but congealed in me as a component of the compound of my ice.
    Here, I remembered someone's supposition about immortality of evil in the world.
    The author asserted that evil only changes its shapes, reincarnating in new and new personifications, ways of thinking, and lines of action. Now, I was rather inclined to agree with this observation of the sage.
    "Then what inference must I make?" I asked myself. "Does it mean he has attained his ends, and consequently, his death is his posthumous victory?"
    What could I answer? "That depends", as they say.
    The struggle lying ahead was for overcoming the aftermath of likening him today, otherwise I was doomed to be a mean murderer like he and bear the memory of my cold-blooded vengeance in my iced soul, where the seething inferno of my hatred had been stifled with an absolute zero of my defensive insensibility to all sensations.
    Watching the fury of the elements in the rainy night, I comprehended both the correctness of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" and the true sense of the expression "To overstep the bounds", for by my crime, I had broken some implicit taboos of mine, and my nature responded to this transgression with blocking all my emotional sphere.
    I did not know when this individual ice age might end, and how I should manage to cope with the task of unfreezing my estranged self, but anyway, I was beginning to live anew.
    So I reverted to my common affairs for the following hours, thinking indifferently what story could I concoct for my daughter-jurist as a convincing explanation of my strange knowledge of the technical defects of her car, and whether it was worth the expense to flavor coffee with cognac Hennessy for warming or I might grow too sleepy in the night-time after such a relaxation, even being a seasoned drinker.
    In short, I left all of it behind for a while and ceased planning anything for the foreseeable future.
    Immersed in thoughts of the forthcoming struggle with my own evil, I was standing alone in the pouring rain, staring intently into space and seeing nothing but the night foamy raging of the raving storm of the immense winter Mediterranean Sea....
   
   
    EPILOGUE
   
    The information about a dead body fished out of the Yarkon appeared at the local sites of news in the Internet two days later, with the indication of the name and surname of Max (naturally, his passport was found on him) and with an appeal to all the citizens of Israel, who was acquainted with the deceased, to connect with the police. It was clear from the information that police experts considered this death by drowning as an accident happened through drinking to excess, which was quite traditional a manner of Russian tourists at leisure, inasmuch as the investigation did not elicit any facts being evidence of a violent death.
    Accordingly, the corpse was awaiting the decision of its lot in the town morgue, and I had no interest in the further fate of my enemy turned by me into the decomposing flesh.
    If Max stayed with friends in Israel, not at hotel, his friends would perforce take the trouble over his funeral (of course, in Russia, for the soil of graveyards on the Holy Land rated too high for burial of foreigners), and beyond all doubt, they knew nothing about his criminal adventures here. I was sure he did not notify them of his plans concerning me and, most likely, never mentioned my name at all, concealing his acquaintance with some stage-director that resided in Tel Aviv, as from the outset, he intended to commit felonies, murders in particular, and could not share his secrets with anybody.
    Thus, I eventually settled a score with this avenger and got away with it, not counting my inconsolably broken heart and numb soul, so lost for any creation that the last untouched glass might have been drunk by Max to its perdition in art.
    But it must be said that the unexpected exacerbation of the international situation saved me the trouble of seeking reasons for my refusal to stage the stipulated musical in that theater in Russia, because the oligarchic elite of my motherland successfully used a sudden conflict with Ukraine for fomenting war hysteria and for igniting militaristic nationalism in the pretty degenerated society-in order to put the screws on under the pretext of the total confrontation both with the hostile neighboring country and with the whole antagonistic world of the West, whither, by the by, these post-soviet potentates of the humiliated successor of the soviet superpower were selling the oil and gas misappropriated by them.
    Such a sort of war was predestined by the logic of converting the lost great power into the private property and fortunes of the ruling caste of new billionaires after the well-conducted collapse of the effete Soviet Union at this stage of the global project of appropriating the Russian Federation by its authorities (for whose sake the bloody dawn of criminal capitalism had broken above the demoralized society of socialist democracy).
    The fratricidal evil reigning in Russia during almost a century after the civil war must have undergone such a transformation sooner or later, and the initial dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e. of the apparatus of the Communistic Party) had given place to the dictatorship of some supreme nouveaux riches seeking to take possession of certain profitable businesses and sectors of economics. The brinkmanship just created the proper conditions for embezzling the budget resources and public funds by the self-interested greedy rulers without any control and protest.
    Although the subjects of the autocratic impostors were very susceptible to such campaigns and would invariably permit the high-ranking swindlers to make fools out of the unprivileged majority, they weren't harmless creatures and had an ingrained habit of compensating their debasement with aggression and vindictive spitefulness or even villainy; unsurprisingly that the evil continued to spread over the "Holy Russ", permeating all its relations imbued with meanness.
    That's why, in consequence of the mighty bellicose upsurge of the populace and in view of such a revival of the national spirit up to a swing to the overt Fascism, half inspired by the mass-media half inherent in the mentality and herd instinct of the debased people of the former empire, all the prices began to rise as well, and conversely, the State subsidizing of the cultural institutions came down. As a result, an ordinary provincial theater could not afford such an expensive artist as a foreign stage-director with his requirements in the face of "tightening the belts" in the period of the tide of prevailing aggressive jingoism. Moreover, now the exchange rate of dollar to ruble was such that my fee could nowise authorize the expenditure of time on my production in any theater.
    The annulment of one offer in one theater was not the end of the world, and it fell to me somehow aptly, but a kind of martial law in the "cleptocratic" police State, which had the right to direct me to smarm the ostensible obscurantism of the Russian marauding neo-feudalism, made any prospects of my work there extremely vague.
    It is not that I was a combative intransigent dissident, recusant or frondeur; however, I couldn't stand any bigotry and ideological directives as such, not to speak of this stuff applying to my spectacles. And more importantly, I especially needed in my present condition to have freedom of creative sincerity for staging a play without restrictive circumspection-of mine or of the management of the troupe-under threat of bowdlerization.
    All my feelings were nipped by my inner frost, and only my searches of new solutions and objectives in some new creation might have revitalized the emotional full-bloodedness of my soul. Meanwhile, I did not foreknow how my past fatherland would be altering in the near future (rather for the worse), and what production would arise there for my professional participation (if any indeed might be offered once again).
    At least six-seven months were unoccupied in my schedule till the autumn, though it should not be taken literally, since I owed my average level solely to my own earnings. Now, I had to make my living by plying another trade, to wit, by guard's shifts, fatiguing and troublesome, but empty if I had no creative work for my mind and imagination for the hours of my joyless labor.
    It turned out that I came to be in Max's shoes in a manner of speaking; and in addition to my psychological metamorphosis, the inauspicious circumstances deleted me as an artist from the field of culture for the second time.
    In Israel, I saw enough of examples of loss of self-identification among the "Russian" possessors of higher education and corresponding professions, who eked out a livelihood at such jobs as of cleaners or unskilled workers lest they go a-begging. Without my art, I also faced the same inevitability of embitterment "in despair", as it was written in that note for me in Jerusalem.
    I was obliged to withstand the disruptive influence of otioseness on me, or else I might be infected with the widespread envious malice against the lucky half of mankind, for the vindictiveness of unfortunates with their wretchedness was contagious, and sometimes it would spread over the whole countries and nations like an epidemic, whereas I never yielded to any plebeian moods to be bracketed with the masses as a man of crowd and to be obsessed by their general evil in adversity and hardship.
    Well, let's assume there was no demand for my direction on the stage in Russia, while I was used to engage in working on a play only after an offer of some concrete theater to stage it (otherwise it meant to limn the water), and my stagecraft was thus under threat of falling into desuetude owing to my unwantedness, but why not to do something instead of staging-say, in literature?
    Why not to commit to paper the story I survived in my real life?
    To my mind, this story was quite worth writing, even without any artifice and with my scanty lexical expressive means and stylistic unpretentiousness.
    Ultimately, I did not intend to create a masterpiece or bestseller in genre of thriller, and in all modesty characteristic of me, I should simply essay to tell my tale as artlessly as I could with my conspicuous ingenuousness of a confirmed "theater worker"-from the beginning to the end just as the chronicle of this year had been composed by its course of events.
    *
    Maybe, someone will take my honest narration at face value and put a malevolent construction on my pure truth as on a sufficient reason for instituting proceedings against me for a murder. Yet at this writing, the remains of Max are lying either cremated in an urn or buried under the sod very long ago, as the process of my description of all those surprises and guesses has taken some time since then if you have the pleasure to read these lines.
    Furthermore, I can always say that in my story I have only reshaped some real incidents for creating a mere fiction, all personages and accidents of which are no more than artistic images, and whose plot is a figment of my rich imagination. No evidence no proof.
    And may he burn in Hell, the villain of this novel!
   
   
    The End
   
   
    Israel, October 2012 - July 2015
   
      



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