I am afraid that my memory is confused about these events, the final events of my life, by which I mean what happened before I started to go blind. But in the beginning it was like this: every Friday we went to Serge and Marisha’s – as though magnetized by their little house on Stulina Street – and drank all night.
It was always the same people; if someone didn’t turn up it was because of circumstances at home or because they were out of favour with Marisha and the others. For ages they wouldn’t have Andrei because once when he was drunk he had punched Serge in the eye: at the time we regarded Serge as untouchable; he was our pride and showpiece. (He was a rising star in the scientific world.) Usually, though, there were Serge and Marisha; and their daughter, Sonya, in the next room. Then there was myself – there for no good reason – and my husband Kolya; Andrei the Stool-Pigeon (so-called because once he had agreed to be an informer for the authorities so that he could go on a Pacific expedition), first with his wife, then with various other women, later with his steady girlfriend Nadya; Zhora, who was half-Jewish from his mother (a fact which no one – apart from me – ever mentioned), was there and, like many small men, displayed a permanent state of arousal. And Tanya, a six-foot Valkyrie, with long blonde hair and very white teeth which she cleaned obsessively three times a day, for twenty minutes at a time. She was Serge’s favourite: he would sometimes stroke her hair when he was very drunk and thought nobody was noticing, and his wife Marisha would sit quietly as if nothing was wrong.
And then there was Lenka Marchukaite, a very pretty girl of twenty with a double-D cup bra. Lenka behaved like a black-market operator. She wormed her way into Marisha’s confidence by telling her how difficult her life was, scrounged twenty roubles and disappeared. When Lenka returned, her four front teeth were missing. She paid back the twenty roubles (Marisha was triumphant) and said she had been in hospital, where they had told her that she could never have children. Marisha liked her all the more. Before that, Lenka had never been invited to stay the night at Marisha’s flat, but without her front teeth it was a different matter. With Serge’s help, Lenka got a job and had four false teeth put in. Afterwards, whenever she came into a room, she picked out one of the men and sat down on his lap while the other poor boys – my husband Kolya or Andrei the Stool-Pigeon – grinned awkwardly.