Mihail and Anna Razuvaevy
Translated by Raphael Levchin & Kevin Carey
DUST FOR THE INNOCENTS
Scenario for a Radio Play
Woman’s Voice on the Phone.
* * *
Voices and sounds in the room of the observer are not distorted. Judging by the distance of street noises, this is either a garret or an attic apartment. Everything which takes place in the tapped apartment is being sent through a transmitting/receiving apparatus, and sound slightly muffled, almost unreal.
Voices and music from the radio.
Woman Emcee.We bring you the weather forecast for today, November 11th. Heavy winds with rain and snow, wet and inhospitable, and in some especially unlucky areas, even little slivers of ice. Not very cold – 1-2 degrees. And now for the news…
Footsteps on an iron roof. Sound of pigeons cooing. A door creaks open. A vigorous clanking of shoes: it must be the Observer coming down the iron stairs of his garret.
Observer.Hello. Are you falling asleep?
2nd Observer. (Yawning.) Yeah… They’re sleeping over there. All’s quiet, peaceful, idle…so I dozed off a little.
Observer. Aren’t you stiff?
2nd Observer. Of course, I’m stiff. Out of coffee, too.
Observer. That’s too bad, and I brought a sandwich… At least the equipment not broken, right? (Sneezes.) Damn all this dust…
2nd Observer. It’s all in order, humming and chirping. The bugs are well hidden; none of them has been found yet. See for yourself: there are the two lights… the numbers check out, the minutes log is on the table.
Observer. They take many strolls?
2nd Observer. In general, they don’t go for walks. They don’t go out – just sit around talking all sorts of nonsense. The milkman came, once. It’s pathetic.
Observer. So what do they talk about?
2nd Observer. I don’t get it. Some little book, which they apparently read out loud. And always the same chapter. My last shift I heard the same thing. They’re completely…
The two of them chortle pleasantly.
2nd Observer.And the lines have been in for three weeks already. Obviously the customer is also… that way.
Observer. Well, let the boss worry about it.
2nd Observer. As long as we don’t go crazy.
Observer. So what? The pay will cover the…
2nd Observer. …Medicine.
Observer. Aw, don’t start that again. It’d be better for you to get some well-earned rest.
2nd Observer. I’m already gone. Don’t get too bored.
Clanking of shoes on the stairs above. A door creaks. Again the street sounds and the howling of the wing can be heard clearly. The footsteps fade. The remaining observer is whistling something and rearranging small objects.
Observer.Well, well, well. Are we all alive and running? We’ll turn up all the channels on the line, pick up sounds at all depths. (Sound of an alarm clock. The Observer giggles.) Get up, devils, get up!
A creak; shuffling feet. The cantankerous voice of an old man.
Old Man.Get up, it’s time to wake – life doesn’t wait! We’re already behind schedule, and you, you stuporous oaf have been no help at all. Neither help, nor comfort. Dust is already all over everything out there, and you shuffle about with wooden legs. (Footsteps.) There… Good for nothing but wiggling that ass of yours. (Giggles, pleased.) Get the coffee going. The whole world slept through idiot’s alarm clock.
Observer. Ha, ha! No such boredom today – these naked beauties.
Old Man. What are you rooting around for over there? The coffee’s getting cold. Were you thinking of playing with dolls? Time is running, listen: Tick-Tick-Tick… (The clock ticks faster.) Everything’s already cold. If it weren’t for the milkman, quite in spite of you, we’d have died of hunger by now. Eats noisily and drinks his coffee.) I jotted something down last night, listen… (Clears his throat.) The city was digging up, like ditches, the roads and paths upon which the devil had pestered here and there, from one inhabitant to the next, without regard for character, age level, or biological sex… Although, perhaps, "biological sex" sounds clumsy, not in keeping with the style, and somewhere, by the side of the road there forever sits and longs various unfortunates, the listless marginalized. There. But then, even age level isn’t very smooth. Ok, I’ll rewrite it.
Observer. A writer… He writes and writes, and right next to him sits this seductive, ass-wiggling queen, and she doesn’t give a damn. However, perhaps she doesn’t care for anything. At any rate, she doesn’t care anything about THAT. Just like my ex – always pretending to be so noble, when in reality… So why’s it gone quiet? No noise, no commotion. We’ll just turn up the volume. (Something metallic falls loudly to the floor.) Damn! Too loud… I wonder if it was a spoon or a fork that fell? Who’s coming for a visit?
The telephone rings. After a pause can be heard the indistinct responses of the person called.
Old Man.Don’t touch! I’ll take it; it’s for me. For me, whoever it is, and not you. Hello? Yes… No… You never… no, I’m saying you’ve never pondered over the phrase "blood with milk"? … Exactly… And what sort of muscles do you have for this undertaking? … Oh, is that so… an active brain… well… no, exactly – blood with milk, not blood in milk… where does the phrase come from? Well, it’s right in front of your eyes – a robust lass 5 to about the time her nipples begin to protrude… I don’t know, and on top some painted lips, and so on… yes, blood with milk, it evaporates… no, it’s not important from which vein and what kind of milk. It’s not worth burdening it with the psychosis of false vampirism, or confusion between the circulation of the left ventricle and the right… What about the African aborigines? …So I heard… no, not at all, it would be better if we ourselves raced along like the wind… no, blood doesn’t stain it, and behind it there’s nothing… of course, white and red buds bloom, pink like the setting sun in the black shadows of coagulated blood… yes, there’s iron there, and it oxidizes… yes, until we meet.
Observer.Damn it. It didn’t trace the number… the devil. (Tonal sounds of a phone being dialed.) Hello, control? We’ve got a problem with our tracer. Check for yourself… so send a specialist… what’s that got to do with me?! I’m waiting.
The sound of soft music (further off – the phone).
Old Man.This telephone has got me completely baffled. Where did I leave off? That’s right, the city, the devil, Innocent Marpl… your typical drunken swine, and a violinist to boot. He sells, no, he sold… no, you see… The devil, not having the slightest understanding of the rules of the game – this borders on existentialist territory – capricious and changing their shape, stands not like a peninsula or a skeleton, but like an elegant Italian at the time of the pernicious Inquisition… The devil, constantly testing peoples’ physical predilections toward money of all denominations, miscalculated… Just as it’s written – mis-cal-cu-la-ted. Yes, and even I myself have always suspected: only when you begin to play by your own rules – then you win, and win big. Are you listening closely? Stop listening; just type, and I’ll dictate to you the final version. (The lively sounds of a typewriter clacking away can be heard.) Softly, softly, stop horsing around. Type.
The sound of furniture being moved in the observer’s apartment – then, quiet.
Observer.And now it begins… The final rendition of chapter 8 of the eternally unfinished book, the daily prayer. Perhaps he’ll even eat something.
Old Man. …Innocent Marpl, to tell the truth, has never been beyond the confines of his room, which has been a shelter for his acute sense of hearing, and is the cause of his developing catastrophically morbid. Now and then he succeeds in suppressing these at the root, while he scribbles down musical compositions upon piles of paper, but usually he ends up falling to the floor beneath the weight of auditory hallucinations. It is precisely because of the magnitude of his affliction that he has been lost in forgetfulness for many years. It happened on his wedding day…
Observer. What wedding? …
Old Man. Are you getting it all? (The machine begins to rattle, then falls silent.) What’s the matter with you, you haven’t typed anything?! Well, you know… We’ll begin with the first line. (Leisurely.) Innocent Marpl, a fully decent inhabitant of a respectable house on… However, that’s not interesting. More curious is the development of his temperament within the four-walled seclusion of his tower of art, at once talented and incompetent. It was precisely this that the demonic voices prophesied to him in the last days of his life. They chattered on about how all his melodies… ah! I forgot to say that he was a musician, a composer to be more exact. Violin melodies… that’s how they say it? …leapt out from under his pen, one after another… Are you getting all this? (The measured clacks of the typewriter.) The voices maintained that all the melodies, and even the individual noises he had stolen from a drunken violinist, whom he had heard once as a child, and later these very same voices convinced him that the drunken violinist had been alive many years before the moment of Innocent’s birth, and that perhaps he had appeared before the sound affliction had descended upon Innocent, that he had transmitted it to Innocent by way of an inheritance, so that his musical compositions would live on. However, the voices did not achieve their goal – deaf with the noises and sounds in his head, Marpl’s brain, as the doctor would say, closed itself to the similar verbal attacks of others, no less than to crazy thoughts. He decided that this old man was not some phantom predecessor or distant relative, but he himself, his own predecessor.
A pause hangs.
Observer.That’s it – bats in the belfry. Why has the little woman become so quiet? Has she taken a vow of silence or something? Okay, they take a vow; we get lunch.
He turns a knob on the receiver, skipping from channel to channel.
Woman Emcee.… and fell under the streaming torrents of rain upon the roadways, full of post-storm worms and leisurely crawling snails…
A violin excerpt.
Man Emcee.… correctly follow our recommendations and you’ll have no trouble in avoiding a whole series of undesirable consequences and compounded effects, unlike the cows…
The sound of soft, pleasant music.
Old Man.… And do you know what’s most interesting of all? When he died, his son, who was a doctor, performed the autopsy. But nowhere has this perversion been mentioned. On the contrary, his son assures in one of the letters, apologizing, that he could not be present at his father’s passing for completely banal reasons: he was a practicing doctor at a neighboring city… no, "practicing" – an idiotic word, kind of like sleet, like racing earthworms after a thunderstorm. (Music is switched on in the tapped apartment. The old man digresses to singing his own words to the music.) The queen’s daughter… enviable pie… to stuff her cake… you could die laughing! Imagine… in one of his hallucinations his predecessor, or he himself previously, tells of how, defeating the devil at a game… well, when he had changed the rules so expertly, he had only won it on certain grounds, that is, he had made a pact with the devil… he pretends there was no deal, but because of this he can only exist within the small territory of this kingdom, in the bed of the king’s daughter, but after a while that’s not enough for him… Stop! …No… that’s not enough for her…
Observer. (Munching on a sandwich.) Enough – not enough, in any case, siesta’s coming.
Old Man. I’m going to take a nap, little sun. Meanwhile, busy yourself with something.
Retiring footsteps. The striking of the typewriter continues, intermingled with snoring.
Observer.(Stretching his legs and groaning.) You could die just sitting here, or get hemorrhoids like an old man. It’s pathetic… To be all wrapped up in nothing but your own blathering chatter, until dementia replaces idiocy. Yet, it’s so strange, the wench says not a word to any of it, as if dust didn’t even settle on her… (The tonal sounds of a telephone number – in the pause can be heard an indistinct voice from the receiver.) Hello! How are you over there, not getting bored? …Well, so… a pause just now… no, today’s busy… but I’ll get in touch with you tomorrow evening without fail… Yes… and there… and there… so don’t forget, keep the evening free… (In the observer’s apartment – a ring at the door and noise.) That’s it, ciao! … (He stands still for quite some time; music plays softly in the background.) False alarm? It never fails, just when you get started talking… (In the tapped apartment can be heard an indistinct commotion. Gradually it becomes understood that they are vigorously and noisily making love.) Oh brother… who’s with whom… the old codger can’t be that spry…
Climax ensues. All becomes quiet. The smart snap of a lock snapping shut. The distinctive shuffling of the old man’s slippers.
Old Man. Well, well… And who’s getting plowed in here? …I see… Watching your videos again…
Observer. It’s not the old guy. Some kind of funny business is going on here. Did someone really fly out the door? Well, judging from everything it’s not the girl… I know that right now she’s sitting sown there with a blanket bundled about her legs, listening to the old man’s admonishments… So where did the lucky punk come from? He didn’t exit outside, so he must live in this very building… very nice. For all intents and purposes, I’ve slipped up. But maybe the old man’s right – she was simply watching a porno. And the door, didn’t it creak? Ok, the main thing is – the biggest clue is not the creaking. Oh, for some coffee, some coffee…
Old Man. Watching your videos, watching them – and don’t have sex with me, as long as you walk around naked…(something falls and breaks.) Throwing things again! That’s it, work while seated, at the typewriter, yes, sweep all the dust, soon we’ll be drowned in it. (After a pause the typewriter begins clacking away) When Innocent Marpl was exiled from his city…. However, not completely exiled… this phrase is apt, rather, when it’s the malicious conspiracy of specific people, but here it's simply a mass of stupid circumstances, which expelled him from the little city… yes, rather pride or something of that nature… Big deal three or two years fallen from memory… or rubbing elbows with the devil the whole time, or burning a hole in his trousers in a tavern, and so: his fiancé went for another… and so? Big deal, just wonder, she’d been involved with this nincompoop even before Innocent, high times they had in the hay loft, and Innocent was no monk himself: sawing away on his violin, someone always filling his cup up with wine, and he pouring it on every woman in the place… Stop. "Pouring it on" – no, not the wine, to be sure… No, strike the last three lines. (The clacking of a single key blotting out the former version of the text.) Oh, but you want to listen to something on the violin? (A screeching music cuts the silence for several seconds and then falls silent.) By the way, Innocent, who is a composer… no, not the ancient one… I call him that in general because he is the most significant one, the starting point for every journey in this territory… well, judge for yourself: whether or not the predecessor existed, god only knows, but our composer had a son. I’m sure if we tried to find some great grandson, he would exist. And so this second one died mysteriously, extraordinarily, though he was very old and very sick, plagued by demon voices, but still, unexpectedly. And he did not choose a very good place – he fell from some church steps. And I think maybe this pries was in league with the devil and pushed him… or maybe he decided Marpl was possessed by the devil and so helped him to die… It’s unclear. Listen; let’s have some beer. Are there any left in the refrigerator? Run, because you’re young, and my liver is sad…
Observer. Oh, beer would be grand… light or dark, but cold…
Old Man. Hell, so cold! Where’d you get these from, the freezer? (Telephone.) Don’t touch! I’ll take it; it’s for me. For me, whoever it is, and not you. Hello? Yes… No… You never… no, I’m saying you’ve never pondered over the phrase "blood with milk"? … Exactly… And what sort of muscles do you have for this undertaking? … Oh, is that so… an active brain… well… no, exactly – blood with milk, not blood in milk… where does the phrase come from? Well, it’s right in front of your eyes – a robust lass, from 5 to about the time her nipples begin to protrude… I don’t know, and on top some painted lips, and so on… yes, blood with milk, it evaporates… no, it’s not important from which vein and what kind of milk. It’s not worth burdening it with the psychosis of false vampirism, or confusion between the circulation of the left ventricle and the right… What about the African aborigines? …So I heard… no, not at all, it would be better if we ourselves raced along like the wind… no, blood doesn’t stain it, and behind it there’s nothing… of course, white and red buds bloom, pink like the setting sun in the black shadows of coagulated blood… yes, there’s iron there, and it oxidizes… yes, until we meet.
Observer.What the devil? Again the same problem – I didn’t get the number. All our specialists are busy you see, they cannot send them… And then they’ll tear my head off.
The old man sings lowly to himself.
Old Man.This phone call has confused my memory again. Yes… we were drinking very cold beer, very cold… Ah yes, I’ve got it! I have a very interesting tape. I used to collect random snippets of conversation on the street. They never noticed, I was so sly… Sometimes very funny things… and this conversation, this tape has some connection to our Marpl, and maybe even to us, my dear. Perhaps not directly, but anyway, just listen…
The tape plays. It’s a bad recording, but understandable. The young woman is speaking with our Observer.
Young Woman.Don’t be afraid, the first movement always seems perilous, but that’s only in comparison to the stuporous stagnation, which previously…
Observer (on tape). No, I can’t adjust to this music, to these attempts at sound…
Observer. Wait… How can this be?
Young Woman. Well, you can at least try. Everyone in your family had some relation to music.
Observer (on tape). Just try – that means obligate myself to something so that I can’t refuse.
Observer. …Where did they get this tape? WHERE?!
Old Man. Now it’s about Marpl.
Observer. About… who… about who?
Young Woman. …I attended the concert of a certain violinist, as the poster had said, and imagine my surprise when two people appeared on stage…
Observer (on tape). A duet?
Young Woman. No, a duel. One was a thoroughly dunk old man, the other not much younger, pretending to be a composer, and was crazy for sure. Instead of a concert they argued and yelled at each other, insulting one another, calling each other plagiarist and the devil knows what else…
Old Man. That’s the Marpls… both at once.
Observer (on tape). It’s so funny…
Click. The tape stops.
Observer.How did they get it? …Me, too… but we never…
Old Man. Great voices, right? They’re no demons, of course, but very entertaining. It’s always interesting to witness people stuck at a crossroads. This young man who’s been listening to us all this time should like it. So, young man, did you like it? (The observer sounds like he’s choking.) You’ll protest this again, girlie, but I believe we should ask this nice young man to pay us a visit. True, our apartment is a little dusty, but we’re interesting to talk to. In any case, it’s I who am actually paying you, my boy… I need to be sure that the sounds around me… Hurry, because it’s beginning to rain – drops will be big, and you’ll get soaked. And be careful on the stairs.
Observer. Dust… well, it’s nothing. Yes, of course, I’m coming, I’m coming. Rain, I’m not afraid of that. I’m not used to all this, but I’m coming… but I have to make a call first.
Woman’s Voice on the Phone.The line is busy. You can leave a message after the tone. Thank you.
Observer. B-Boss… They invited me to go to their apartment… for business (Giggles nervously.) He said that… well, I’ll go… (Indistinct noise, shoes clanging on metal stairs. Sounds of him falling to his death and at the same time, alarming music starts up. Under this music we can hear footsteps on the roof, and after some time we hear his voice in the old man’s apartment.) Ah-choo! … It’s so dusty… a thick layer of dust… well, well… a note? …(Takes the note. His voice starts to shake and then becomes stronger, till it rings out victoriously.) It started, as it always does, with two tightly intertwined human bodies, cuddled into a ball, a single object rolling its way across the courtyard, making indistinct sounds, apparently crossing and exchanging wires inside… a grand performance for all kids around… and following the usual period of expectancy was thrust into the world a person, named Innocent Marpl, who immediately began to grow and change the shape of his head and hands, and a stereo sprouted inside, between his ears. Apparently, it was during this period that he ingested a dust mote, which got lodged in his brain, where it remained and took root, a lot of tissue springing up around it, and it was indeed the embryo of his death and deep senility, still a long way off, but all the time growing and digging deeper into his body… his little secret, and without any benefit… Unnoticed, Innocent crawled on all fours through the public bazaar, and there had his first epiphany, cosmic and senseless: he saw for the first time a violin, in the hands of a drunkard playing for spare coins… It’s not that Innocent had never seen a violin before – in his house there was one cut out from cardboard – but it was only at that moment that the instrument made an impression on him, to the extent that it was all that he could see, insensitive to the music which wandered around him like a reclusive, old horse. Maybe this old man who was playing was a very bad musician, or maybe he was too drunk at the time. The magnitude of the sensation that gripped Innocent at the sight of that violin is perhaps comparable the first touch of a lover, which leaves you forever changed…
Music grows and the voice lessens. A pause.
2nd Observer.Hello… Boss, I’m here with the group… Some sort of devilishness… No, not me… He made the call and left a message on the answering machine, saying he was going to the tapped apartment… yes… I know it’s not allowed… No, it’s unfathomable… Everything was fine, we came and the apparatus was working, the machine listening and writing… no, no sound, just the background, snow… some kind of dust… yes, he said so himself: dust… And it’s as if everything’s evaporated… we looked in the apartment, even broke down the door. No one had been there in a long time… A layer of dust two fingers thick… no footprints, nothing… Ok, understood, we’ll pack up.