I seem to have lain about on and perambulated here and there across the top floor of a place — a house — for quite some time without coming in or out by any door. There’s a breath on the window, a wind, like the sky’s breathing down the room’s neck, raising its hackles, and there’s a creaking from low down, way under the basement, an elevator winching up a few stories per day, some patient passenger waiting his turn to appear in our midst, like that guy flying overhead for all that time to gun down that other guy, if memory serves, in Pale Fire or one of those books.


No one prevents me going down the hall to the bathroom to wash my face and neck. When I lie back down, my eyes fall to the window, where I tend to see what looks like a cannonball rising from a cannon on the neighbor’s lawn, flying in a trajectory right over the house, so I go under the covers and brace for its impact, hear and almost feel it crashing through the roof and floor after floor, tearing a hole in our center. In hiding, I fall asleep and wake up at another time of day.


I come and go, sniffling something sour down from my sinuses into my throat, like maybe, tastes like, I’m sick. Some interest in recuperation notwithstanding, the days in this sickbed multiply.


Then, on one of my walks down the hall, I run into an orderly or intern. He’s a caterer, according to him, and informs me that the house has been rented out for a private function, and that I’ll need to make myself scarce. “Just picture it like the adults are watching The Firm after your bedtime, and you can peek and listen from the top of the stairs so long as you don’t get caught, so long as you remain technically asleep.”


“So I can sleepwalk?” I ask.


He gives me a look to the effect of, “Don’t get funny with me here.”


I ask him for whom the private function is, and he replies that he doesn’t know but there’s an entourage. I almost ask, “Is the guest of honor arriving by elevator?”


“Are you laying out finger food?” I ask.


He gives me a look to the effect of, “Not for you, friend.”



On the night of the private function, I hear voices downstairs and my first thought is, So My Nightmare Has Come True. I creep to the top of the stairs, in my pajamas, embossed with the logo of this place, or of the place that made them. I sit on the top step, my nails dug deep between the floorboards.


From downstairs, smelling of finger food, Russian sentences issue up in thick gouts. One voice, soft and low, makes a space around itself in the center of the other voices, by which I mean that when it talks the others do not. This is not a voice whose fate is to be underfoot.


It is the voice of Vladimir Sorokin.


I can’t pick out much of what it’s saying, by there’s no question that the conversation is coming into orbit around the universe-anchoring Name of Tarkovsky, as conversations will.


I creep a couple of stairs further down, hoping to avoid that caterer while getting close enough to see. I achieve an angle whereby some of what’s up down there reaches me up here.


Everyone with their wine and toast-morsels has formed a circle around Sorokin in the living room, and he’s whispering in that way of his while standing in front of a silk curtain.


After a round of applause, he calls for a volunteer from the audience, magician style, and a Slavic-Studies-professor-looking person stands up. Together they yank down the silk sheet.


There stands a large painted wooden icon, surrounded by all the usual Orthodox cryptography. In the center is a very old, grave, subtly, almost secretly, smiling man, with a huge gray beard.


My eyes are riveted to it, as are all those downstairs. A voice begins to whisper paraphrased translations in my ear. I don’t how long the person to whom this voice belongs has been sitting here beside me, and I don’t turn to look at it now.


“Sorokin’s explaining how he came to paint his Tarkovsky Icon,” says the voice. “How he reached a point in his creative life, after all those years of Ice, when he needed to give flesh to the supreme work that had been slumbering in his … I don’t know, it’s an organ you don’t have in English, I don’t believe. Anyway, he says now that he was called to do for Tarkovsky what Tarkovsky himself was called to do for Andrei Rublev, in the interzone between the mortal and the divine, where resides …”


“He says also,” says the voice, skipping ahead to stay current, “that this Icon represents the apotheosis of his life as an artist, in all mediums, and that he is now officially retired.”

At one and the same moment, the crowd downstairs lets out a groan of disbelief and begins cutting and dishing out a giant Retirement Cake.


The Icon, to me, looks a lot more like Father Zossima than like any Tarkovsky I’ve managed to imagine, but I keep my opinion to myself.


I’m downstairs among them all now, against medical orders, staring into its eyes and beard, the sound of cake eaters all around me. There’s something afoot in the beard, it looks like, a swirl of figures, ghosts of some sort, miniature entities painted into the ground of the Icon, almost intangible in the whiteness of the paint, but they’re all I can focus on. They appear to stare back at me, with eyes far more alert than the eyes of the Icon’s human figure, which are painted more with an amateur’s enthusiasm than with a Rublev’s mastery. Sometimes they look sly, with that grin that sly ghosts adopt to show what kind they are, and sometimes they look dead serious.


A whisper at my shoulder and I turn and there’s Sorokin. Before I can explain that I belong upstairs, he says, in English, “I’ve grown tired of my Icon, so soon. We are going to the movies. I think it will be cold there.”



Bundled in several jackets and britches over my base pajama layer, and a pair of boots from some closet, I clomp along in the Russian delegation to the movie theater downtown, the wind on Main as relentless as if we’d been sitting naked on naked prairie, not even a stump or a trampled patch of grass to mark our forefathers’ attempt to build a habitable town.


On the cinema marquee are several options, servicing all price brackets, in an attempt to turn no one away. Essentially, you pay per character you want to see. If you only want to see the lead or hero of the film, you pay next to nothing. If you want the hero and the villain, you pay a little more, and if you want the whole supporting ensemble, with all its red herrings and romantic side-alleys, you pay full price.


The film playing is, of course, Andrei Rublev.


Sorokin and his entourage pay full price and disappear.


I, digging a couple of coins from the pocket of the jacket that was put on me, ask if I can see it with no one in it, not even the actor who plays Rublev. “Just show me mist,” I request, “heavy skies, a tract of land, some moving or standing water, that’ll be plenty. All those horses — I can make do without them. And I certainly don’t need sound.”


The ticket salesperson shrugs, doesn’t see why not, takes my coins to contribute to the cinematography costs, and hands me a flimsy, oil-soaked corner of a sheet of paper, as my ticket, and points to my theater.


Inside, the screen is a wash of medium gray and light gray, a milky texture with a little densening of white in one part that might be a winter sky with its sun. There are some dark areas too, lower down, ground of some kind surely.


The soundtrack still seeps in here and there, slowed and pared down to the point where it sounds like an intermixture of growling and shivering. From the corners, I can hear teeth rattle, some of them my own.


As I watch, I start to suspect that those ghosts from the Icon’s beard are recurring in the wash of the screen: some of the thick spots of white and off-white, curls and twists of light, tend toward the bodily.


A little scared now maybe, I look away from the screen, which has begun to bleet and hoot. In the theater, my attention settles like a tossed rope onto the shoulders of the dark-cloaked man in the front row.


He looks up at the screen, and, though I can’t see his face or anything much about him, I become stubbornly certain of his identity: it is, has got to be, Gary Lutz.


His attention on the screen is unbroken, or he’s fast asleep. There’s only one other person in the theater, and though I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, I can tell she or he is looking at the figure in the front row as well, thinking exactly the same thing.