Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
Trying to guess from their number
The year which brings my death
--A. Pushkin, 1837.
Pushkin stubbed his toe on the protruding foot of the French end table. As the pain surged up his leg, his synapses registered a brief white light, and he had a sudden vision: There was a man who had lived his life, treacherously, with Another balanced on his head. They had grown so. Like so. Just so. Each hair had entwined itself with its opposite on the other's head. In the interest of good taste, both had dyed their hair a neutral brown (originally their hair had been blonde and red, respectively).
These men lived lives parallel to each other, often undertaking the same tasks: writing novels, or books of prose at any rate, which were never read (although commentary on these books was studied throughout the land). The books were considered impenetrable, as texts often overlapped, reversed, and folded into themselves. Mothers teaching their children would often describe reading them as ''combing the sea" or "listening for footsteps."
On a cold winter morning in February, the men, who had become brothers, were executed for treason by a very good firing squad (the sharpest in their division), in front of a very good wall, leaving behind a death that was pronounced "very good" by all who had witnessed it. There are others, however, who maintain that they drowned in a flood, unable to choose a direction in which to swim.
The trademark was a stylized combination of the letters B and T written in scarlet. The construction on the station was to begin in one week; already there was a sign erected on the edge of the park, which clearly and hopefully set the red trademark against a crisp white background. Valentina Matviyenko pulled his wool overcoat closer to his bulky frame. His knees ached. He longed to leave the city and go ice fishing on the Neva, but instead, he walked through the park one more time before heading towards Mariinsky Palace, and the waiting city council. The park, with its anachronistic obelisk marking the spot where most remember the duel taking place, was a small thing, but small things mattered in a city trying to misremember a recent past cast in concrete. Balt Trade was one of any number of fuel companies formed in the vacuum of the early 1990s, companies that promised to provide modern fueling complexes with all kinds of services from cafe to car wash. The idea of building a Balt Trade gas station between metro stations Pionerskaya and Chyornaya Rechka appeared more than a year ago; it had, in fact, appeared on Matviyenko's desk. In July the city's investment and tender commission gave Balt Trade a building permit for the station. This permit, secured in a flurry of luncheons and personal gifts, called for the leveling of no more than half of the park, and in a last minute addendum, it was decided that the station would be separated from the park by a short white fence.
The falling snow stung Matviyenko's eyes, so he closed them, trying to imagine the trees edged by the halogen light of the fueling complex and the shifting headlamps of cars. His foot caught on a rock, and his balance shifted, his body weightless in the air.
Pushkin woke with a start, a book of Abyssinian history pressing against his chest, tongue swollen and feet blue. His head felt lighter. The room was filled only with the sound of heavy breathing, breath disappearing in meager puffs. He brushed at his face with the back of his hand, hoping that somehow his beard had grown fuller during the night. He heard Tatyana stirring in the next room, soft whimpering lacing the cold air. Someone had opened the window; snow arranged itself into glyphs on the stone floor. He lifted his body into a sitting position, pulling the fur closer to his neck. His eyes could see little, only folds of blue shadow. But memory filled in where sight left off, and he mentally compiled an inventory of objects in his room: the single painting hanging on the wall, a gift from Rublyev; writing desk, secure and dark in its oak-ness, the letter resting on top of the usual correspondence; wool suit draped over a chair, in its pocket a folded envelope; his best leather boots; the water mark on the wall from the great flood; the letter.
His body was shaking under the heavy furs. Hurry, Pushkin. Hurry. There's no time. He saw the waters rising, the Neva rushing through the window, bed and desk and letter floating into the street, paper dissolving, limbs cased in ice, knuckles white, wet streetlight vapor, inked words flowing into each other, glacial heartbeat, feet made of stone, his body swept with 10,000 others into the grey vastness of the sea.
Pushkin could not hear the sudden silence in the room, as his ears were filled with the roar of coursing blood. He spoke a single word, in the hopes of waking his sleeping wife. He spoke a single word, which echoed once, and abruptly vanished.