Boris Arkadyevich Horoshansky (1955 – 1982) was, undoubtedly, one of the most tragic figures in the Soviet literary circle. In his first major works, such as An Ode to Lenin (1973) and Atheism: Path of Reason (1974), he revealed himself as a staunch believer in the bright communist future, ready to use his pen in the uncompromising battle between our socialist line of thinking and the inhumane ideologies of capitalism and religious bondage. However, his literary output gradually became increasingly decadent, as the author was falling prey to the rotten Western influence.
His novel Toils of Love (1978) displays clear symptoms of bourgeois approach to family and its place in the construction of a communist state. It has failed to capture the spirit of marital collaboration and solidarity for the benefit of the society, instead unhealthily focusing on morbid deviations in emotional and physical life that had been long purged from the lifestyle and lexicon of the Soviet citizen. References to mysticism and retrograde religious symbolism have insinuated themselves into the book as well. The novel was chastised by the progressive element of our literary world. Furthermore, the young writer has tarnished his reputation by alleged involvement in Zionist activities, masquerading as interest in his ethnic Jewish heritage. The Association of Writers has unanimously voted to remove Horoshansky from its ranks.
The short story In a Grove, which we now offer to the readers of Literaturnaya Gazeta, was written by Horoshansky just before his voluntary commitment in the Leningrad Psychiatric Hospital nr .7 in September 1980, where he passed away two years later in the state of clinical insanity. We understand that the decision was, at least in part, triggered by a traumatic event he had experienced a few weeks earlier. It goes without saying that the Soviet reader will never be able to accept the preposterously fantastical description of said event as depicted by the author in the short story below, justly seeing it as the product of a delirious brain already in the state of severe decomposition. It is also an unfortunate fact that the writer, possessed by his fervently irrational anti-Soviet sentiments, is unable to properly evaluate the prudent and patriotic behavior of his brother.
We have decided to publish this excerpt of prose by the talented, yet sadly deranged author as a reminder to our aspiring writers to stay within the frames of socialist realism, reflecting reality in a healthy manner, and never succumbing to the dangerous tenets of capitalist art.
We would also like, on this occasion, to condemn the war crimes perpetrated by the Zionist leadership of the State of Israel against the brotherly Arab nation, as well as congratulate the Leningrad soccer team Zenit for winning their first Soviet League championship. A proletarian salute to our athletes from the city on the Neva river!
IN A GROVE
by Boris Horoshansky
It was the end of August – that blessed time when the Leningrad summer, bleak and short-lived, melancholically announces its upcoming transformation into the cold, damp Northern autumn. It is time for warmer clothing and reluctant preparations for the school year. It is time for sad thoughts to begin invading our minds, compelling us to ponder upon the meaning of our existence. It is also time for the sacred ritual of mushroom hunting.
Only those who have experienced it know the thrill of wandering through a pine grove and spotting, with inexplicable gut instinct, that magically different knoll in the distance. It is covered by thick, dark green moss, which you greedily cut away with your pocketknife; and there – behold! – grows the coveted brown-capped boletus edulis, the crowning achievement of your hunt...
My twin brother Anatoly and I agreed to meet on the platform of the suburban railway station Bronka at precisely 7am. I was coming from my apartment in Dachnoye, a dreary new district of Leningrad, escaping the stifling terror of identical grey nine-story houses dominating the landscape; he was arriving from the opposite direction, the nuclear power plant of Sosnovy Bor, where he worked at the time. Overcome by sudden nostalgic longing, we decided to revive the old tradition of mushroom hunting in the same forest we’d used to visit as kids when staying in the village with our grandmother for the summer vacation.
The red-and-green, snake-like body of the suburban train slid smoothly along the side of the platform. The automatic doors opened noisily, and I saw Anatoly, dressed in khaki pants and a long sleeve shirt, step out of the train on the far side. I rushed to embrace him, and for a while we were standing there, hugging each other’s shoulders and looking at each other, as the train screeched and brattled away from the station.
“Borya,” my brother said, shaking his head. “So many summers, so many winters ... Forgive me, I’ve been terribly busy with my work at the plant. I should have called more often.”
“It’s my fault, Tolik,” I said gently, squeezing his shoulder. “I was busy as well. So many new experiences ... new ideas. There is so much I want to share with you.”
“Is that so?” Tolik asked nonchalantly. We walked off the platform, passing a decrepit wooden hut that served as a ticket booth. Just a minute ago the sun had been blazing; yet presently, owing to the precarious weather of our dear Ingria, a thick grey cloud crept over the sun, disconnecting us from the source of the pleasant warmth. We continued to move along the dirt road toward the forest.
“Brother,” I spoke warmly. “I’ve changed in those years ... I want to tell you all about that. I’m so glad that we can finally meet ... I’ve been craving for understanding and support, especially since my novel was lambasted by those ignorant critics.”
“Hmm,” Tolik said, smiling. “I don’t know, Borya. To be perfectly frank with you, I liked your early work more.”
“My early work?” I stared at him, amazed. “We both know it was just naïve patriotic dithyrambs to the glory of the party.”
Tolik was silent. We kept walking, our boots rapidly picking up the dust from the road, until it ended and we began trudging through a thorny thicket that lead us straight towards a narrow muddy path. We were inside the forest now. Squirrels were scampering up and down the burly trees, scattering pine cones in all directions. A jay cried menacingly, alarming the inhabitants of the woods of our presence.
Tolik stopped and sniffed the air.
“Ahh,” he exclaimed, “I love the smell of a Russian forest! I feel how the mushrooms are springing out of the ground, my dear brother. It rained yesterday, so I think we may look forward to a satisfying hunt.”
“It looks like it might rain any time now,” I mumbled, looking at the sky. I had the unpleasant sensation that my brother was avoiding a conversation that mattered so much to me.
We explored the nearby grove, and Tolik found a troop of chanterelles almost right away. He carefully put the mushrooms into his basket and announced with somewhat forced enthusiasm:
“Those are great with sour cream sauce! Have you tried?”
I touched his sleeve.
“Tolik,” I said imploringly. “We need to talk.”
Meanwhile, more dark clouds gathered above our heads. The sky was the color of lead, and I felt that it was swollen, ready to burst into a vicious rain any time now.
“Oh yeah?” he asked absent-mindedly. “What about? Oh, look! Isn’t that a red cap boletus? It is, I swear! Do you remember how proud you were when you found your first one?”
“I’ve found something much greater now,” I uttered, only to realize how stupid my phrase sounded.
“I see,” Tolik rejoined, squinting at the clouds. “And what would that be? The meaning of life?”
“You are mocking me...” I said reproachfully, as we were passing a growth of fly agarics. “I met this incredible person, brother. His name is Alexander Men. He is a priest of the Orthodox Church. A Jew by birth, just like us. He opened new horizons for me ... Faith, spirituality ... Things I had no idea about.”
Tolik looked at me sharply:
“A priest? Who is mocking whom now, Borya? You’ve been fraternizing with a priest? So it is true, what they are saying – that you’ve been brainwashed by religious propaganda? You haven’t repented the absurdities you wrote in your last novel?”
“Repented?” I cried, looking him in the eye. “Tolik, wake up! Or, at the very least, stop pretending! I know you are interested in nuclear physics, and I respect that. I know that your work at that plant is hugely important to you. I don’t intend to mar your reputation, sever your ties with the powers-that-be ... or whatever that’s called. But please, talk to me like a brother for once – like a human being! You know we’ve been living a lie, don’t you? We’ve been force-fed this horrible atheist, materialist crap. We grew up with the notion that we were nothing but the dung with which they fertilize the bright communist future. Individuality, uniqueness of each human being is completely ignored; there is no trustworthy source of morality, and no metaphysical explanation whatsoever concerning the origin of our lives...”
I paused for a second. A pale lightning suddenly glimmered from beyond the clouds. I continued:
“And what are the results of that ghastly doctrine? The greatest crimes our century has known; nay, the greatest crimes in our history! Only the German fascism, that evil, murderous cult, could compare to communism in that aspect. The one rejects God outright; the other slanders and falsifies him.”
I don’t know what caused me to produce that awkward, poorly conceived speech. I guess I was just spouting whatever came to my mind. My brother’s reaction was not entirely unpredictable.
“God?!” Tolik suddenly started laughing. “So you admit you believe in God now? You, the everlasting skeptic, the shrewd chronicler of world’s superstitions! Are you telling me now that you think there is a God?”
At that moment, a dreadful thunderclap shook the leaden sky. A gust of cold wind swept the grove. First sporadic raindrops, like tiny aliens infiltrating our airspace, began dropping with treacherous persistence.
“Oh my,” Tolik smirked. “Here comes my punishment for blasphemy. Elijah the prophet is now driving his carriage angrily along the main avenue of Heaven City, disregarding other vehicles and street signs.”
“Shut up!” I said quietly. “There must be an old abandoned hunting cabin nearby. Remember how we used to play there as kids? Let’s go.”
We crossed the grove and ran towards the cabin, which was still standing there after all those years, more dilapidated than ever, nearly hidden from sight by the wild growth around it. The light, skin-tickling drizzle had already morphed into violent downpour. I quickly pushed the half-rotten door consisting of several planks crudely nailed to each other. It almost fell off its hinges as we entered the cabin.
The tiny room was almost empty. Piles of old straw strewn over the wooden floor; two large wooden chairs; a few rusty tools dumped into the far right corner.
At first I hadn’t noticed the orb.
It was sitting next to one of the chairs – a round piece of what looked like marble, about the size of a tennis ball. Its turquoise surface was shimmering softly, as if it were illuminated from inside by a dim light bulb. I thought it was a children’s toy, yet it looked unpleasantly inappropriate in that cabin. It was too bright, and too new.