Translated from the Russian by Anne Marie Jackson

‘Just one left till morning.’

What does this mean? I keep repeating the words in my head. They’ve got stuck there. I’m fed up with them. But this often happens to me. A sentence or part of a tune will get stuck in my head and won’t leave me alone.

I open my eyes.

An old woman is kneeling down on the floor, lighting the little stove. The kindling crackles.

And my stove is crackling away.
It lights up my bed in the corner
behind the bright-coloured curtain.

How often I’d sung those lines.

The bright-coloured bed curtain is gathered into pleats; light is shining through its scarlet roses.

The old woman, who is wearing a brown shawl and a dark headscarf, is hunched into a little ball. She’s blowing onto the kindling, clanging the iron poker against the stove. I look at the little window. Sunlight is playing against the frost on the glass.

No sooner has the light of dawn
begun to play with the clear frost
than…

Just like in the song. How does it go on? Ah, that’s right:

than the samovar has begun to boil
on the oak table…

Yes, there’s the samovar, boiling on the table in the corner, a little steam escaping from under its lid. It’s boiling and singing.

Along the bench outside struts the cockerel. He comes up to the window, tilts his little head to one side and looks in, his claws clicking against the wood. Then he moves on.

But where’s the cat? I can’t live without the cat. Oh there he is, stout and gingery, purring as he warms himself on the table behind the samovar.

Someone has begun stamping inside the porch, shaking snow from their felt boots. The boots make a soft thudding sound. The old woman has got laboriously to her feet and waddled to the door. I can’t see her face, but it doesn’t matter, I know who she is…

I ask, ‘Who’s that?’

She replies, ‘It’s that fellow, what’s his name…’

I can hear them talking together. The old woman, standing on the threshold, says, ‘Well, I suppose I could roast it.’

There in her arms, upside down, is an enormous bird, black with thick red eyebrows. A wood grouse. It’s been given to us by the huntsman.

I must get up.

Next to the bed are my felt boots—my beloved white valenki. Long ago in St Petersburg the Khanzhonkova film company organised a hunting trip for a group of actors and writers and their friends. We were meant to be hunting for moose. They drove us out over the firm white snow to Tosno, where we had a long, convivial lunch with champagne. Early the next morning we set out on low, wide sledges to the edge of the forest. How I had loved my pointy-toed white-felt skiing valenki. I remember my white cap, too. Against the snow neither my head nor my feet would be visible. No beast would recognise me as a human being. It was a hunting ruse all of my own invention.

A steward of some sort showed us all to our correct spots. We were told not to smoke or talk, but we decided it couldn’t do any harm if we only talked and smoked a little bit. I was standing with Fyodorov, the writer. We could hear the cry of the beaters. Later we found out that some moose had come, taken a look at us through the bushes and gone away. They hadn’t liked what they’d seen. Instead of the moose, some hares leaped out—one of them right in front of me. Not moving at any great speed, it slipped slily from bush to bush—neither quite running away nor quite taking cover. Fyodorov quickly raised his gun and took aim. ‘Don’t you dare!’ I yelled, jumping up and flinging my arms open right in front of him. He began yelling even louder—something like ‘You foo-oo’, except that the word got stuck in his throat—and ‘That could have been the end of you!’ I didn’t mind him yelling at me. What mattered was that we’d saved the hare. My white, slim, nimble valenki did a little dance in the snow.

Later my valenki went missing. The maid’s husband, a drunken layabout, had stolen them and sold them for drink. But now they’d come back again. Here they were by my bed, as if this were the most ordinary thing in the world. I slipped my feet into them and went into the little box room to get dressed.

There’s a narrow window in the box room, and a small mirror on the wall. I look at my reflection. How strange I seem. My face could be from a childhood photograph. Anyone would take me for a four-year-old. I have a cheeky smile and dimples. As for my hair, it’s short, with a fringe. It’s fair and silky and it lies close to my head. It’s just like it was when I used to walk down Novinsky Boulevard with my nanny. And I know exactly how I used to look then. When we were going down the front staircase, the big mirror on the landing would reflect a little girl in an astrakhan coat, white gaiters and a white bashlyk hood with gold braid. When she lifted her leg up high you could see her red flannel pantaloons. Back then all of us children wore red flannel pantaloons. And reflected in the mirror behind this little girl would be another figure just like her, only smaller and wider. Her little sister.

I remember how we used to play on the boulevard, my sister and I and other little girls like us. Once a lady and a gentleman stopped and watched us for a while, smiling.

‘I like that little girl in the bonnet,’ said the lady, pointing at me.

The thought of her liking me was intriguing. I immediately opened my eyes wide and puckered my lips, as if to say, ‘Look at me! Aren’t I wonderful?’ And the gentleman and his lady smiled and smiled.

On this Novinsky Boulevard I so loved there was also a big bad boy, about eight years old, who hung around being naughty and picking fights. His name was Arkasha. Once he climbed up on top of a bench, tried to look impressive and poked his tongue out at me. But I stood up for myself. Even if he was big, I wasn’t afraid of him. I taunted him, saying, ‘Arkasha eats baby kasha! Arkasha eats baby kasha!

And he said, ‘Yah, you’re just a little squirt.’

But I wasn’t afraid of him and I knew I would always be able to make fun of spiteful fools, no matter how high they climbed.

Then there was that proud moment of my first bold triumph, my first triumph of ambition. There on that same boulevard. We were walking past our house when Nanny pointed to a short, stout figure standing on the balcony.

‘Look, there’s Elvira Carlovna. She’s come out for some fresh air.’

Elvira Carlovna was our nursery governess. We were little and her name was so hard for us to say that we just called her ‘Baba’. But suddenly I felt bold.

‘Irvircarna!’ I called. Not ‘Baba’ but ‘Irvircarna’—like a big girl. I said it in a loud ringing voice so that everyone would hear that I could talk like a big girl. ‘Irvircarna!’

Evidently I had once been bold and ambitious. Over the years I had lost all this, more’s the pity. Ambition can be a powerful force. If I had been able to hold onto it, I might have shouted out something for all the world to hear.

But how wonderful everything was on that boulevard. For some reason it’s always early spring there. The runnels gurgle as they start to thaw; it’s as if someone’s pouring water out of a narrow little jug, and the smell of the water is so heady that you just want to laugh and kick up your heels, and the damp sand shimmers, it’s like little crystals of sugar and you want to put some of it in your mouth and chew it, and a spring breeze is blowing into my woolly mittens. And off to one side, by a little path, has appeared a slender green stem. It stands there, quivering. And the lamb’s-fleece clouds whirling about in the sky look like a picture from my book about Thumbelina. And the sparrows bustle about, the children shout, and you take all this in all at once, all in one go, and all of it can be expressed in a single whoop of ‘I don’t want to go home!’

All this was in the days when my hair was fair and silky. And now, all of a sudden, my hair’s like that again. How strange. But is it really so very strange? Here in this little house with the cockerel strutting along the bench, what could be more ordinary?

Now I’ll put on my little cap, the one I wore on that hunting trip, and go out on my skis.

I walk out onto the porch. There, standing against the wall, are my skis. No sign of the old woman and the huntsman. Eagerly I slip my feet into the straps. I grab the poles, push off and glide down the slope.

Sun, the odd powdery snowflake. One snowflake falls onto my sleeve and doesn’t melt; it’s still crystalline when it blows away. I feel so light! I’m held by the air; happiness is carrying me along. I’ve always known and I’ve often said that happiness isn’t a matter of success or achievement—happiness is a feeling. It’s not founded on anything, it can’t be explained by anything.

Yes, I remember one morning. It was very early. I’d been on my knees all night long, massaging the leg of a very sick patient. I was numb from cold and trembling from pity and fatigue as I made my way home. But as I was crossing the bridge, I stopped. The city was just beginning to wake up. The waterside was deserted apart from a longshorewoman the likes of whom you’ll see only in Paris. Young and nimble, a red sash around her waist and pink stockings on her legs, she was using a long stick to fish for rags in the dustbins. The still sunless sky was just brightening in the east, and a faint haze, like pencil shading on pink blotting paper, showed where the sun’s rays were about to burst through. The water below wasn’t flowing as water is supposed to flow but whirling around in lots of flat little eddies, as if dancing on the spot. It was waltzing. And trembling gaily in the air was a faint ringing sound—perhaps the sound of my fatigue. I don’t know. But suddenly I was pierced by a feeling of inexplicable happiness—a feeling so marvellous it made my breast ache and brought tears to my eyes. And reeling from fatigue, laughing and crying, I began to sing:

Wherever the scent of spring may lead me…

I hear a rustling behind me. The huntsman. Now he’s standing beside me. I know his face, his outline, his movements. His earflaps are down; I can only see him in profile. But who is he?

‘Wait,’ I say, ‘I think I know you.’

‘Of course you do,’ he says.

‘Only I can’t quite remember…’

‘There’s no need to remember. What use is remembering? Remembering is the last thing you need.’

‘But wait,’ I say. ‘What’s that sentence that’s been bothering me? Something like “Just one left till morning”. What on earth does it mean? Something nasty, I think.’

‘It’s all right,’ he says. ‘It’s all right.’

I’ve been ill for so long, and my memory is poor. But I do remember —I made a note: I want to hear the Lohengrin overture one more time, and I want to talk once more to a certain wonderful person, and to see another sunrise. But Lohengrin and the sunrise would be too much for me now. Do you know what I mean? And that wonderful person has left. Ah, I remember that last sunrise, somewhere in France. Dawn had just begun to glow, its wine-red hue beginning to spread. In a moment the sun would come up. The birds were getting agitated, twittering and squawking. One little bird was loudly and insistently repeating, ‘Vite, vite, vite…’ Tired of waiting, it was urging the sun on. I joined in this reproach to the sun, saying (in French, of course, since it was a French bird), ‘Il n’est pas pressé.’ And suddenly there was the sun, round and yellow, as if breathless and embarrassed about being late. And it wasn’t even where I’d expected it to be, but somewhere far off to the left. Out came the midges; and the birds fell silent and got down to their hunting.

The poetic conceit that birds greet the rising of the sun god with a hymn of rapture is ever so droll. On the whole birds are a restless, garrulous tribe. They make just as much fuss when they’re going to bed as when they wake up, but you can hardly claim that they’re hymning the sun then, late in the evening. In Warsaw, I remember, in one of the squares, there was what you could call a sparrow tree. In the evening people would gather to watch the sparrows go to bed. The birds would flock around the tree and make a clamour you could hear all over the square. From the tone of their twittering you could tell that these were squabbles, disputes, brawls and just plain mindless chatter. Eventually everything would calm down and the sparrows would settle in for the night.

Although I shouldn’t reproach the birds for this garrulousness. Nature gives each bird a single motif: ‘cockadoodledoo!’ or ‘chink chook’ or just plain ‘cuckoo’. Do you think you could get your message across with a sound as simple as that? How many times would you have to repeat yourself? Imagine that we human beings were given a single motif according to our breed. Some of us would say, ‘Isn’t the Dnieper wonderful in fine weather?’ Others would ask, ‘What time is it? What time is it?’ Still others would go on and on repeating that ‘the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.’ Try using a single sentence like that to rhapsodise about the Sistine Madonna, expound on the brotherhood of nations or ask to borrow money. Although maybe this is exactly what we do do and we just never realise it.

Sunrise! How varied it can be, and how I love it in all its guises. There’s one sunrise I remember well. I waited for it a long time; for some reason I was really longing for it. And there in the east was a strip of grey cloud or light mist. I raised my arms like an ancient pagan worshipping the sun and beseeched the heavens:

Sun, our god! O where are you?
We are arrayed in your flowers,
Our arms upraised to the blue,
We are calling, invoking your powers…

And then there it was, an orange coal ringing through the grey mist. Slowly before us rose a bronze sun, swelling, incandescent, malicious. Its face was blazing with rage; it was quivering and full of hate. Sometimes sunrise can be like that…

And I remember another very curious sunrise.

In a patch of grey there suddenly appeared a round hole, like the spyhole in a stage curtain that actors look through to check the size of the audience. Through this little hole in the sky peeped out a hot yellow eye; then this eye disappeared. A moment later, as if deciding—Now!—out jumped the sun. It was very droll.

Sunset, on the other hand, is always sad. It may be voluptuous, and opulent, and as richly sated with life as an Assyrian king, but it is always sad, always solemn. It is the death of the day.

They say there is a reason for everything in nature—the peacock’s tail serves to perpetuate the species, the beauty of flowers attracts the bees that will pollinate them. But what purpose does the mournful beauty of sunset serve? Nature has expended herself in vain.

Here’s the huntsman again, standing beside me.

‘Where’s your gun?’ I ask.

‘Here.’

It’s true, I can see his gun behind his back.

‘And your dog?’

‘There.’

Up bounds his dog. Everything’s as it should be.

I feel I ought to say something to the huntsman.

‘How do you like my little house?’ I ask. ‘When it gets dark, you know, we light a lamp.’

‘Does Nanny light it?’

‘Nanny? Oh yes, yes, the old woman—that’s Nanny,’ I say, remembering.

Nanny… She had died in an almshouse. She was very old. When I visited her, she would ask, ‘Just what are these granchilder? Some country folk keep coming round and saying, ‘But Grandma, we’re your granchilder.’’

‘They’re your daughter Malasha’s children,’ I explained.

Malasha had been our housemaid when I was little.

I remember it all so vividly it’s uncanny. Someone has spilt some needles on the windowsill and I’m stroking them. I think they’re absolutely wonderful. And someone is saying, ‘Lyulya has spilt the needles.’

I hear but I don’t realise that this Lyulya is me. Then someone picks me up; I’m touching a plump shoulder tightly encased in pink cotton. This, I know, is Malasha. And as for the needles—I’ve loved needles and everything sharp and glittery all my life. Maybe I began to love them back then, before I realised that Lyulya was me. We were talking about Nanny. She was very old. And now she’s here in this little house. In the evening she lights the lamp; from outside the little window shines orange, and out from the forest comes a fox. It comes up to the window and sings. You’ve probably never heard the way a fox sings? It’s just extraordinary. Not like Patti or Chaliapin, of course—but far more entertaining. It sings tenderly and off-key, in a way that’s utterly bewitching; very soft, yet still audible. And the cockerel’s outside too, standing on the bench, its comb like raspberry gold with the light shining through it. It stands there in profile and pretends not to be listening.

And the fox sings:

Cockerel, cockerel,
With your comb of gold,
Your combed little beard,
And your shiny little head,
Come look out the window.

But the cockerel clicks its claws on the bench and walks away. Yes, at least once in your life you should listen to a fox singing.

‘It sings at night,’ says the huntsman, ‘but you don’t like night, do you?’

‘How do you know? Does that mean you’ve known me a long time? Why is it so hard for me to remember you when I’m quite certain that really I know you very well?’

‘Does it matter?’ he says. ‘Just think of me as a composite character from your previous life.’

‘If you’re a composite character, then why are you a huntsman?’

‘Because all the girls of your generation were in love with Hamsun’s Lieutenant Glahn. And then you spent your entire life seeking this Glahn in everyone you met. You were seeking for courage, honesty, pride, loyalty and a passion that ran deep but was held in check. You were, weren’t you? You can’t deny it.’

‘But wait… You said I don’t like the night. That’s true. Why? What does it matter? Tyutchev said, and he’s probably right, that it’s because night tears away the veil that prevents us from seeing the abyss. And as for the anguish inspired by the stars: “The stars speak of eternity”—what could be more terrible? If a person in pain gazes up at the stars as they “speak of eternity”, he’s supposed to sense his own insignificance and thus find relief. That’s the part I really can’t understand at all. Why would someone who’s been wronged by life find comfort in his complete and utter humiliation—in the recognition of his own insignificance? On top of all your grief, sorrow and despair, here—have the contempt of eternity, too: You’re a louse. Take comfort and be glad that you have a place on earth—even if it’s only the place of a louse. We look up at the starry sky the way a little mouse looks through a chink in the wall at a magnificent ballroom. The music, the lights, the sparkling apparitions. Strange rhythmical movements, in circles that move together and then apart, propelled by an unknown cause towards an incomprehensible goal. It’s beautiful and frightening—very, very frightening. We can, if we like, count the number of circles made by this or that sparkling apparition, but it’s impossible to understand what the apparition means—and this is frightening. What we can’t understand we always sense as a hostile force, as something cruel and meaningless. Little mouse, it’s a good thing that they don’t see us, that we play no role in their magnificent, terrible and majestic life. Have you ever noticed how people lower their voices when they’re looking at the star-filled sky?’

‘Nevertheless, the stars speak of eternity,’ said the huntsman.

‘Eternity! Eternity! How terrifying! “Forever” is a terrifying word. And the word “never” is no different—it is eternal in the same way. But for some reason “never” frightens us still more. Maybe this is because “never” includes a negative element, almost a prohibition, which we find abhorrent. But enough of that or I’ll start feeling wretched. A while ago, a group of us were talking for some reason about how impossible it is to grasp the concept of infinity. But there was a little boy with us who made perfect sense of it just like that. He said, “It’s easy. Imagine there’s one room here, and then another, and then another five, ten or twenty rooms, another hundred or million rooms, and so on and so on… Well, after a while it gets boring, you just can’t be bothered any more and you say To hell with it all!” That’s what it is—that’s infinity for you.’

‘What a muddle you’re in,’ said the huntsman, shaking his head. ‘Eternity and starry despair, a singing fox and a little boy’s prattle.’

‘But to me everything seems quite clear. I just want to talk without any logic or order, just the way things come to me. Like after morphine.’

‘Precisely,’ said the huntsman. ‘After morphine. Because this little house of yours never really existed either. It’s just something you used to like drawing.’

‘Look, I’m tired and ill. Does it really matter? When all is said and done, we invent our entire lives. After all, don’t we invent other people? Are they really, truly, the way they appear to us, the way we always see them? I can remember a dream I once had. I went to the home of a man I loved. And I was greeted there by his mother and sister. They greeted me very coldly and kept saying he was busy. They wouldn’t let me see him. So I decided to leave. And as I was leaving, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and let out a groan. My face was fat and puffy and I had tiny squinting eyes. On my head was a hat with bugle beads, the kind that used to be worn by elderly shopkeepers’ wives. On my shoulders was a brown cape, and on my short neck a filthy, coarsely-knitted scarf.

‘“Good God! What’s wrong with me?”

‘And then I understood. This was how those women saw me. And I know now that you will never find even two people on earth who see a third in the same way.’

‘You seem to have set great store by dreams,’ said the huntsman.

‘Oh yes. Dreams, too, are life. I’ve seen and experienced much that is remarkable, beautiful, even wonderful—and yet I don’t remember it all and not all of it has become an essential component of my soul the way that two or three dreams have done. Without those dreams I wouldn’t be the person I am. I had an astounding dream when I was eighteen—how could I ever forget it? It seems to have foretold my whole life. I dreamed a series of dark, empty rooms. I kept opening doors, making my way through one room after another, trying to find a way out. Somewhere in the distance a child began to cry and then fell silent. He had been taken away somewhere. But I walked on, full of anguish—until, finally, I reached the last door. It was massive. With a great effort, pushing against it with all my weight, I opened this door. At last I was free. Before me was an endless expanse, despondently lit by a lacklustre moon. It was the kind of pale moon we see only by day. But something was gleaming in the murky distance; I could see it was moving. I was glad. I wasn’t alone. Someone was coming towards me. I heard a heavy thudding of horses’ hooves. At last. The sound was getting closer. And an enormous, bony white nag was approaching, its bones clattering. It was pulling a white coffin sparkling with brocade. It pulled it up to me and stopped… And this dream is my entire life. It’s possible to forget the most vivid incident, the most remarkable twist of fate, but a dream like this you’ll never forget. And I never have done. If my soul were reduced into its chemical components, analysis would reveal the crystals of my dreams to be a part of its very essence. Dreams reveal so very, very much.’

‘Yours is a very nice little house,’ he says, interrupting me. ‘And it’s a good thing you’ve finally reached it.’

‘You know,’ I say, ‘today my hair is just like it was when I was four. And so is the snow. I used to love resting my head on the window sill and looking up to watch the snow falling. Nothing on earth creates a sense of peace and calm like falling snow. Maybe because when something falls it’s usually accompanied by some noise, by a knock or a crash. But snow—this pure and almost unbroken white mass—is the only thing that falls without any sound. And this brings a sense of peace. Often now when my soul feels restless, I think of falling snow, of silently falling snow. And always there’s one snowflake that seems to come to its senses and does its best, zigzagging its way through the crowd of obediently falling snowflakes, to fly back up into the sky.’

The huntsman didn’t speak for a long time. Then he said, ‘Once you made out that there are five doors through which one can escape the terror that is life: religion, science, art, love and death.’

‘Yes, I think I did. But do you realise that there is a dreadful force that only saints and crazed fanatics can defeat? This force closes all these doors; it makes man revolt against God, scorn science for its impotence, turn a cold shoulder to art and forget how to love… It makes death, that eternal bogeyman, come to seem welcome and blessed. This force is pain. Torturers the world over have always known this. The fear of death can be overcome by reason and by faith. But only saints and fanatics have been able to conquer the fear of pain.’

‘And how have you overcome your fear of death?’ he asked with a strangely mocking smile. ‘By reason or faith?’

‘Me? Through my theory of a world soul—a single soul, common to all people and animals, to every living creature. It is only the ability to be aware of this soul, and above all, to give it expression, that varies according to the physical make-up of the creature in question. A dog can distinguish between good and evil every bit as well as a human being can, but a dog of course can’t put any of this into words. Anyone who has carefully observed the life of animals knows that the moral law is inherent in them just as it is in human beings. Which reminds me of a certain little hare, a silly little woodland creature. Someone caught this hare and it soon grew tame. It liked to stay close to its owners, and if they quarrelled, it always got terribly upset. It would run back and forth between the two of them and it wouldn’t calm down until they made up. The hare loved its friends and wished them to have a peaceful life. This was for their sake, not for the hare’s, because their quarrels did not affect it directly. What upset the little wild beast was the suffering of others. It was a bearer of the world soul. This is how I feel about the world soul, and this, therefore, is how I feel about death. Death is a return to the whole, a return to the oneness. This is how I see things myself; this has been my important illumination. There’s nothing mathematical about it, certainly nothing that can be proved. For some people the concept of the transmigration of souls has been an important illumination. For others, the illumination that matters has been that of life after death and redemption through the eternal torment of remorse. For still others, like my old nanny, what mattered most was devils with pitchforks. But I’m telling you what has been important for me. And there’s one more thing I can say. Yes, let me tell you a story. Listen. There once was a woman who had a vision in her sleep. She seemed to be kneeling and reaching out with both her hand and her soul to someone she had loved and who was no longer among the living. She was staying in Florence at the time and the air in her dream—probably influenced by Simone Martini’s Annunciation—was translucent gold, shimmering as though shot through with rays of gold. And within this extraordinary golden light and blessed intensity of love was that ecstasy no one can endure for more than a moment. But time did not exist, and this moment felt like eternity. And it was eternity, because time was no more. As it says in the Apocalypse, “And the Angel lifted up his hand to heaven and swore by him that liveth forever and ever that there should be time no more.” And then the woman realised that this was death, that this is all there is to death: it is something tiny, indivisible, a mere point, the moment when the heart stops beating and breathing ceases, and someone’s voice says, “He is dead now”. That’s eternity for you. And all the elaborations of a life beyond the grave, with its agonies of conscience, repentance and other torments—all this is simply what we experience while we’re alive. There is no place for such trivial nonsense in eternity. Listen, huntsman, when I’m dying, I’ll say to God, “Oh Lord! Send your finest angels for my soul that was born of Your Spirit, for my dark, sinful soul, which has rebelled against You, in its sorrow always seeking but never finding…”’

‘Never till now,’ corrected the huntsman.

‘Never till now,’ I repeated. ‘And bless my body, created by Your Will, bless my eyes that have looked without seeing, my lips that have grown pale from song and laughter, and bless my womb that has accepted the fruit of love, all according to Your Will, and my legs…’

‘… that have been kissed so many, many times,’ interrupted the huntsman.

‘No, I won’t say that. I’ll simply say, “Oh Lord, bless this body and release me into the immortality of your world. Amen.” That’s what I’ll say.’

‘But you’ve said it!’ exclaimed the huntsman. ‘You’ve said it now!’

‘I may have said it, but I’m not dying yet.’

My skis came to a stop. I looked down at my feet. The white-felt valenki were gone. In their place were tall, yellow-leather boots laced right up to the knee. I knew them well. I had worn them when I went to the front during the war. I began to feel strangely apprehensive.

‘I don’t understand,’ I said.

The huntsman was silent. Suddenly, with a slight bend of his knees and a single co-ordinated movement of his entire body, he pushed off and quickly glided ahead and down a slope. Then he flew up over a hillock and disappeared from view. Far ahead he appeared fleetingly at the top of another rise.

‘Hello-o-o!’ I cried out. ‘Come back! I don’t want to be alone!’

What is his name? How can I call out to him? I don’t know. But I can’t bear to be left all alone.

‘Hello-o-o-o! I’m frightened…’

But no, this isn’t quite true: I’m not frightened. I’m just used to thinking that I’m frightened of being alone. I’ll go back to my little house. Yes, I still have something on which I can build life. I’ve still got the little house I once drew… But I’m cold. So cold.

‘Come back! Hello-o-o-o-o!’

‘It’s all right, I’m right here,’ says a voice beside me. ‘There’s no need to shout. I’m here.’

I turn this way and that way. No one is there. Just the whitest white all around. The snow lies heavy on the ground. It’s no longer that light, happy snow. There is a soft tinkle, the tinkle of fine glass. Then the sharp pain of an injection into my hip. Right before my eyes are the folds of a thick apron with two pockets. My nurse.

‘There,’ says the voice, ‘your last ampoule. That’s it until morning.’

Warm fingers take hold of my wrist and squeeze it. Far, far away someone’s voice says, ‘Heavens. There’s no pulse. She…’

She. Who is this ’she’? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that little girl, the girl with the silky hair who didn’t understand that she was Lyulya.

How very quiet it all is…

—1949