The shade of creations uncreated
Flicker in a dream.
Like the lamina of latania*
On walls' enameling
On enameled wall
Half-dreamily etching sounds
In the ringingly resonant silence.
And limpid kiosks
In the ringingly resonant silence
Grow, like sparkles,
As the bright blue moon looks on.
The naked lunar orb is rising
As the bright blue moon looks on...
Half dreamily sounds are hovering,
The sounds caress me.
Created creations' mysteries
Caressingly caress me,
And the shadow of latania shudders
On walls' enameling
(1895) * A kind of fan palm.
In contradictions dark my soul stayed strong,
My mind in fatal grappling never weakened.
I love all dreams, all tongues are dear,
And to all gods I dedicate my poetry.
I've lifted up my prayers to Hecate, Astarte,
As priest I've spilled the blood of sacrificial calves
And later stood beneath the crucifixions,
And praised that love as strong as death.
I've been to the lyceums', academies' groves,
Transcribed the sages' learned dicta there in wax,
Was favored by them all as true disciple,
But I loved only the intercourse of words.
Among the statues on the isle of Dream,
Like songs, I followed flaming paths and flameless ones,
Bowing now to the flaring, and now to the fleshly,
Now all atremble, foresensing phantoms.
The murkiness of contradictions, oddly, I also came to love,
And avidly began pursuit of fateful mixtures.
All dreams are sweet to me, all words I cherish,
And to all gods consign my lines.
A POMPEIAN WOMAN
My first husband was a wealthy merchant,
The second was a poet, the third -- a silly mime,
The fourth a consul, and now a eunuch --
But Caesar himself arranged the fifth.
The empire's ruler loved me,
But I liked a certain Nubian slave.
I don't expect "CASTA I PUDICA" on my gravestone;
My belt resisted very few.
But to you, my blushing friend from Mysia,
To you I am devoted forever, forever.
Don't believe, child, that all women are false:
A true one has been found among them.
Breathing bated, growing pale, so said
The matron Lydia, as though in troubled dream;
She had forgot Pompei was all astir,
The azure over Mount Vesuvius aflame.
And when the lovers, fainting, stilled,--
And sleep, invincible, had felled them,
Grey tons of dust rained down upon the city.
And under ash the city was entombed.
Centuries have passed; as though from out a greedy maw,
We tore the past from out the earth.
Two bodies, like symbols of eternal love,
We found entwined, forever undecayed.
Raise high a hallowed monument --
The life-like sculpture of eternal flesh,
That in the universe the memory shall not fade
Of passion that transgressed all boundaries.
Translations revised 3Feb99
Unsolved Mysteries of the Law
-- By Valery Briusov
-- Translated by R. L. Patterson
The ringing of the harness bells faded in the distance, melted plaintively, and soon it was hard to tell whether they were actually heard or simply rang on in the imagination. The sisters slowly and silently returned to the hall. No one looked at anyone else. They didn't know how to start talking again. The still warm remains of a recent, somber dinner covered the table yet along with a barely touched bottle of wine and a samovar grown cold.
Lidia said, "Kate, wouldn't you like some tea? You didn't have any, apparently." Mara nervously shrugged. Kate nodded.
All three sat down and said nothing, thinking of only one thing. They thought of the snowy field and of the troika as it boldly coursed along the road, drifting with fresh snow. They thought of the station, covered with small lights; they could hear the measured clicking of the wheels blending with the first images of dreams when one leans one's cheek against the hard coach pillow... Then they thought of distant Paris, its broad and bright squares, the color and glitter of the boulevards. They also thought of how Nicholas would never return.
The feeling of impotent, belated penitence rose from the depths of their souls, surged like water, overflowed -- the most tormenting of all feelings. And in three different languages of three different souls they spoke, to themselves, the same words: how could they have let that last moment slip by? How was it possible not to make a last, if desperate effort? Might it have been different if they had hurried after him, caught up with him, said something, done something? Or was it even now too late? Too late? Too late?
The sisters said nothing, but it seemed to them that they were conversing in meaningless words. And perhaps they were conversing that way, but it seemed to them that they were not talking at all.
Outside the windows snow began to whirl. Under the curtain of fluttering snowflakes the turn in the road grew more indistinct, along with the slope of the young pine forest's darkening palisade and the distant expanses of the lifeless field to the right.
Some time passed. It lacked but the falling of a single drop into that vessel of hopelessness, one word, one pretext, for all three women to jump up with a cry of horror, or fall senselessly to the floor, or lunge at one another like three she-wolves, to bite and tear at each other with their claws.
But the minutes passed, and with them came the same torpor. The snow fell and deepened. All sounds in the cottage where the servant lived died out completely. And someone said that it was midnight already. The sisters stood up, bade one another good night, dispersed. The rustle of their dresses could be heard in their rooms. Then all was quiet. To each of them, alone, their thoughts were night. A blizzard was gaining strength outside.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The ringing of the harness bells, at first barely audible, was difficult to distinguish: was it actually ringing or was it reverberating in memories, slowly melting in the night's silence, gaining force and substance. And now the bells were ringing clearly and nearby. The troika was boldly racing along the road, turning... the muffled squeak of the runners in the powdery snow, and the driver, flying up to the porch pulled the horses to a halt.
At the door, the sisters stared at one another. All were pale. They had guessed what they dared not say. They waited.
It was a familiar step. He was in the entryway. The doors burst open. The awful cold of the winter night gushed in. Nicholas, in a fur coat silvered with snow, stood in the doorway.
No one asked him anything. He hurriedly uttered an answer that he had formed and rehearsed: "I was late for the train. It was impossible to wait for morning at the station. I decided to go tomorrow. The evening train is more convenient. But, incidentally, perhaps I'll reconsider and not go at all."
And suddenly, with a wail, Lidia flung herself at him, wanting to say something through her tears, forgetting that her sisters were listening. But he quietly stopped her. "Tomorrow I'll explain everything. Tomorrow. I've caught a bit of a cold out there in the snow. And I ask you not to disturb me. I need to write some important letters."
Kate and Mara were in the deep recesses of the room. He didn't look at them, but he saw them. He felt compelled to say something to them, too, but he lacked the words. For a moment he lifted his head, but, meeting the steady eyes of Mara, again quickly dropped it and, without further utterance, quickly passed them, slipped by, disappeared behind the door of his study.
Lidia ran off somewhere. Her voice, as she made necessary arrangements, could be heard. Wrapped in a dark, raspberry-colored scarf, Kate slowly began to pace the living room. The air felt stifling to Mara. She opened the door and stepped out on the porch. Gasping, she tore at the collar of her blouse. The blizzard lashed at her face. The wet snowflakes beat against her breast and rivulets of cold water trickled down her body. She shuddered and drank in the cold.
The sky was white from the snow. The wind whirled the unresisting white flocks. The wind howled beyond the gates and above the fence. In the distant barn the coachman, carrying a flickering lamp, unharnessed the horses.
Nicholas sat at his writing desk. Everything was so familiar around him: the color of the wallpaper, the rows of books along the shelves, the folders with projects that he had begun and then abandoned. The familiar lamp shown beneath its green metal.
Nicholas sank back deeply into his easy chair, his feet on a bearskin. He wanted to think, to think deeply and to go on and on thinking. To abandon himself to the flow of thoughts just as he would abandon himself to a long trip through a snowy field. He felt a physical pleasure in the capability of his thoughts again to race further along already charted tracks.
Of course he thought of what had comprised his whole life for two years now, of what had preoccupied his whole being: about these three women to whom he was bound with terrible bonds of bliss and torment. Now, after a mad effort to escape, to tear his soul away into a dark freedom, to sunder his whole life, bisecting it at one blow, he was again here, among them, and again the days of frenzied hours -- hours of ecstasies and despairing -- would have to begin again. He had realized, had understood today, that outside of this atmosphere of mutual insult and deification there was no life for him, that he would die without it, like a tropical plant outside a hothouse. He knew that he had returned here forever.
His head was spinning and aching, perhaps from fatigue, perhaps from his cold. His thoughts were drawn into figures and pictures with that same distinctness they have in dreams or fevered ravings. And, as in the first moments of dreaming, he sensed within himself the ability to control the order of his visions, to evoke people, as a shaman summons them with exorcisms.
He wanted to call up Lidia's image, as she was during the first days after their marriage, when she was an embarrassed little girl, an easily shamed woman, crazed in something that she lacked words to describe. And he saw their room in a hotel on the Riviera, vividly recalled the lace on the coverlet of their bed and, in the rosy light of an electric lamp, among the rumpled pillows, her almost childlike, fragile body. He again swooped against it with blissful lips, kissing every muscle, every hair, repeating rapturous words -- "You're mine! Your mine!" -- reliving with her the innocent ecstasy that had come to her in a voluptuousness confusedly attained.
And at the same moment, quickly, he forced another visage of Lidia to appear -- in a moment of extreme despair, when, stung by jealousy, she had run naked into the snow and flung herself face down on the ground, and lay with blood flowing from her head. Again he picked her up in his arms, and carried her into the house. Two mad, distrusting eyes stared at him, suddenly reduced to two enormous pupils. She was just a snared wild animal, while in his soul there was nothing but an insatiable pity for his lover, nothing but a tender thirst to give her boundless happiness and to let himself melt in it, as in the sun's rays.
But let this be not Lidia -- let it be Mara's unclothed, completely naked body trembling in his arms -- during one of those secret trysts which utterly tore them from the world of the living and carried them off to another, isolated planet. Again he was caught up in that frenzied desire, which he always experienced alone with her, a desire for something greater than kisses, than caresses, than the passionate giving of himself; the desire to enter her with his entire being, and take her whole existence into himself. He feasted his eyes on the sweet lines of her body, and the scent of that body, unique, tormentingly desired, flowed into his nostrils and his lips like a sharply intoxicating drink.
They afre again intimate. Again the torment of sensuality arises. It grows, it reaches its limit, it changes into anger and maliciousness. And now they are both suddenly repulsed with disgust for one another. As though they had awakened, they look about with horror and each of them finds it unbearable to be with the other. Each recognizes in the other his eternal enemy -- from the dawn of time. To their lips come all the offensive words, all the insulting reproaches that hatred can suggest. Now they are ashamed of being naked. She finds his gaze degrading, his touch humiliating. And he wants to lunge at her, strike her, kill, kill...
But now this isn't Mara. It's Kate before him, tall, comely, virginal, pure. She has come to him, as so often before, into his study, when everyone is asleep in the house, to tell him again that she loves him, that she wants only him, but will never give him her body. He sees her soul in her eyes. And the old belief that with her alone is there a possibility of a bliss, never before experienced or known, that she alone understands with a dark inspiration all the secret desires of his being, and again forces him to grativitate to her, to tell her unique words of ultimate finality. And now their faces, almost against their will, incline toward each other, and the same frenzied kisses begin again, kisses that bloody the lips. Their arms entwine, embracing painfully, encircling like rings. They fall on the floor, squeezing each other with their knees. They fight like enemies in the forest. He twists her arms, she bites him like a cat. Their suppressed breath becomes gasping. Suddenly, as though from the blow of a spring, they jump to their feet -- she in a torn dress, with her breasts exposed. He flings himself into his chair and she vanishes like a phantom...
The visions of reality, the visions of the past whirl like the flakes outside the window. Three women, one after another, bring their faces close to him -- faces now happy and rapturous, now twisted by despair, now mad, now contemptuously insulting. He hears words of endearment and cruel rebuke. He wants, he wants everything, both this happiness and this torment. He whirls with these women in an intoxicating dance, now embracing their naked breasts, now shielding his eyes from their blows. The tempo of the diabolical waltz grows faster and faster, and he is no longer able, he lacks the strength to escape it.
The wind struck the window powerfully. Nicholas awakened for a moment. He rubbed his forehead. The images had been so clear that he experienced a lassitude in his arms, as though he had been physically working. Perhaps he had caught a serious cold on the road? He drank a glass of strong wine and a stream of flame flowed through his veins.
The storm groaned its monstrous waltz beyond the windows. Nothing could be seen out there except a mass of white flecks.
Kate stood before Nicholas. He gazed at her for a long time, uncomprehending: was this actuality or another of the visions? Believing at last, he stretched out his arms to her. "You? You've come? I was waiting for you. Only you."
She shook her head. He went down on his knees before her. He liked being on his knees before her and kissing her long, slender fingers. He implored her, "Kiss me. Bend down to me."
Kate gazed at him with sad eyes. Then she spoke. "I've come to say goodbye to you. I can't be with you. I wanted a boundless, infinite love. That kind of love wasn't in you. My love is too great for you; yours for me is too slight. Ah, love is tyrannical! It demands total submission. It accepts nothing by halves. But you've given our love one third of your soul, measured out on the scales exactly a third!"
He pleaded with her, pressing his face against her fingers. "Kate! Kate! Don't talk to me like that. Don't say anything to me. I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I myself know nothing. Let me be with you, just be, just to feel that you understand my soul.
She moved away from him, freeing her hands. "Your soul? Yes, I understand your soul! I've observed it for two years. It requires everything in bits. A little of my love, a little tenderness from my sister and a little sensuality from my other sister. Oh, if but once you were to desire something completely, all the way! Even if not with me, but to the end, to the limit! Ah, even if you had the courage to run away from us! But you made it to the station and then turned back. How very like you!"
She spoke cruelly and coldly. In her voice their was the commanding quality of a superior speaking to a subordinate. An infinite melancholy, an infinite sorrow, infinite hurt engulfed Nicholas' soul. He still clasped Kate's hand, but he wanted to answer her mercilessly and coarsely. "And what if you're wrong? he asked. "What if I am able to love as you've never been able to love? But I find your pure, clear, crystal soul too little! Your sexless feeling isn't enough for me! I want both that tenderness and that passion. You yourself tear my love, unique and living, into three pieces and swear that the bloody scraps are not enough. It's for me to despise your triviality, your narrowness. Yes, I returned, but I returned to tell you that I'm no longer a slave to you and your sisters, that you no longer have power over me."
Kate smiled haughtily and said, "It's all the same to me now. I no longer want anything from you. I dreamed of seeing love in its entirety. I had the mad dream of seeing the victory of love over everything: over passion, over pity, over conventions. But you didn't dare to yield to your love for me because you were terrified of wounding your wife: she would die of grief, your thinking went. You didn't dare to yield to your love for me because you thought it would be hard to part with my other sister's kisses! And also -- various circumstances of life interfered! Well, now, I free you from all the vows that you showered on me. If I've been unable to give my whole being to the love that I've been seeking, I'll give it to the death that I want. Goodbye!"
Kate's words stung Nicholas' soul like little arrows. He was no longer on his knees before Kate. A table was between them. Clenching his fists on his chest, Nicholas also tried to speak coldly, cruelly.
"Why are you pretending? Do you think that I've not guessed long ago the actual meaning of your loud words. You're simply guarding your maidenly virginity. You're afraid of the sin of giving yourself to your sister's husband. You're saving your first night for a legitimate spouse."
Then Kate bent over the table, bringing her face close enough to Nicholas so that he could see his reflection in her pupils. This time her voice had a malicious, jeering edge.
"And you thought that I loved you? Don't believe it. I was only experimenting! I wanted to see a real, all-consuming flame in your soul. Well, yes: the experiment failed. I forced myself to endure your kisses all in vain. In vain I overcame my shudder of repugnance when I allowed you to embrace me. Your soul turned out to be more trivial and worthless than even I anticipated. Rejoice! You deceived me, pretending to be greater, more worthy than you actually were."
She laughed. Standing opposite one another in a paroxysm of mutual loathing, once again as they had so many times in life, they traded insults. Nicholas' vision grew hazy, Kate's image melted away, then came back, and he didn't know whether it was she who uttered such angry curses at him or whether he was uttering them for her against himself.
Suddenly a strange thought, like a flash of summer lightning, glittered in the far reaches of Nicholas' consciousness. Humbly, uncertainly, he stretched out his hand and touched Kate's.
"Kate! Kate! Is it you?" he asked. "Or are you a phantom? Surely you couldn't have said all that to me? Why, aren't those all the very thoughts that occurred to me today on the road, in the snowy fields? Surely you couldn't have known anything of that? Answer me!"
And just as unexpectedly, with a changed face and with infinite tenderness and an ultimate affectionateness, Kate answered, "Of course, of course, it's all a lie! There's only one truth -- that I love you. But I can't be with you. And I've come to prove my love to you."
Nicholas caught sight of a blade in Kate's hand. She brought the dagger to her lips and kissed it. Then she opened her dress. She slowly plunged the point into the place where her heart should be beating. For several seconds she remained standing, pale, her lips opened. And then she fell.
In an instant Nicholas was free of the torpor that overcomes the sleeper when it is necessary to flee. He lunged for Kate to pick her up, to press his lips to her wound, to tell her that he loved only her -- and then -- he woke up.
He was alone in his study, in his chair. The lamp beneath the green metal shade burned clearly and evenly. All about there was silence. Had Kate come to him? Or had it all been a fevered dream? He drank some more wine and felt a pounding in his temples.
Nicholas sat there for a long time after that, holding his head tightly between his hands. In an effort to overcome his emotions he tried to think of something else, something unimportant. "Later, later," he said to himself. "Later I'll resolve all the problems, but now I've got to calm down, or I'll go out of my mind." But the very same thoughts, the very same images kept rushing into his mind like waves at floodtide upon a rock that has been ground down by their flow.
It was terrible being alone with his thoughts as they acquired independent life and attacked mercilessly, stabbing weakened consciousness with their long lances! He yearned to leave this lonely room which was open to all visions, oh, to go out to the world, to a human voice, to people! Was it impossible that this voiceless call of the soul could bring someone in to commiserate, to console him? He had no more strength, he begged for pity.
And the door quietly, almost inaudibly opened. Lidia entered with a loving woman's soft steps, walked over to where he sat and put her hands on his shoulders.
"You're tired, Nicholas, you're sick; come to bed." He clung to her hand feverishly. Turned his flushed face up to hers. It was such a joy to see a simple and humble face like hers in his world of tormenting hallucinations. He wondered whether he was actually discerning a faint shimmering around her face, like that in Raphael's paintings of the saints.
He pressed his cheek against Lidia's hand and said quietly, obediently, "Yes, Lidia, I'm sick, I'm tired. Very tired. But not from today -- from this whole life. Yes, take me, lead me away. But not just out of this room, but away from the torments of my life. I give up. I recognize my defeat. Save me, because you alone can save me."
Her eyes gently filled with tears. She sank faintly down beside him, her face on his knees, and whispered, "Now you ask my help. But did you think of me during those months when I was beating my head against the wall day and night, when I lay for hours on the floor, desperately wanting to be even more prostrate, to fall even lower? Whenever it occurred to you to caress me, did it ever occur to you that I had already lost my mind from grief? But you demanded that I smile; you would ask me whether it was true that I was really unhappy. You wondered why I wasn't rejoicing that I was with you. And I obediently became like an automaton. I learned how to laugh when you wanted laughter, to repeat the words that you prompted me to say. Everything that was my personal self you tore out. You emptied my soul Now what do you expect of me?"
Nicholas squeezed her hand painfully, as if seized by a sudden pain. He answered sorrowfully, "I won't lie. I've nothing to give you and I want only to take from you. I beg sacrifice and valiant deeds from you. I'll never stop loving the others. From time to time I'll hate you just because you're not them, don't know their words, their caresses. But show me the whole immeasurability of love. Be my Providence, my Mercy, my Goodness. Be a mother to me. Be an older sister. Lull me with your tender hands. Touch my heart with them -- it so needs the touch of gentle fingers."
Her breathing imperceptibly changed into a wailing. She writhed against his knees, helpless, small. "Enough!" she managed to say through her tears. "For months and months I've waited for those words. With my last remaining strength I've dammed up inside myself the dwindling springs of my love and forgiveness. I said to myself, 'he'll come to me, unhappy, tormented, and I'll forget everything, I'll be everything for him that he wants.' But you would come with lips inflamed from others' kisses, seeking in me no more than a change, demanding only that I be a decoration in your life. And, my strength failing, I would tell myself that what I hoped for would happen tomorrow... And so, imperceptibly, the last drops trickled away, the last smoke dissipated. I'm empty. I'm just a shadow. What will I give you?"
Nicholas bent down to her ear, embraced her familiar, dear body, and whispered, endeavoring to return all the nuances of former days to his voice, "Lida! In the name of our dead son... In the name of our future son."
She freed herself from his arms. Her face, flushed from crying, her strangely crumpled face with her hair tumbling down upon her forehead, was pitiful and terrible. And her eyes again grew large and mad. "Our son?" she asked. "Can it possibly be that you haven't realized that it was I myself who killed him. You haven't understood why I couldn't cry above his casket? Oh, I cried over him, cried too much, when he was still alive. But I was an instrument of God, Who commanded me, a mother, that I avenge myself on you with your own son. I took him out of his little bed, I placed him on a pillow, and I... wailing... strangled him. And when he stopped breathing, I went to call you and your lovers and the doctor and everyone! And not one of you understood, not one, not one!"
She laughed with the terrible exultation of hysteria. Nicholas' thoughts grew confused. He knew, he sensed that she was not telling the truth. But his consciousness lacked the power to distinguish where the lie lay. He couldn't find the words he needed and so he dully repeated, "That's... a lie. That's... a lie."
But she, powerless now to speak, pointed to the side. There, on his chair, on a white rumpled pillow, lay the little body of the baby, with a scarlet face and bulging eyes.
"But how was it that the doctor didn't recognized that he was strangled," Nicholas wondered.
But then he understood the thought and screamed to himself, "It's all nonsense. My son died several weeks ago, was buried long ago. This is delirium again!"
Catching his breath, he struggled to awaken. But the room began to fill with little, naked bodies of dead children, bloodless, contorted, repulsive. It was like a monstrous morgue in which he was the murderer of all of them, the one responsible for all the deaths. And his head was spinning and rocking, and a wild howl filled his ears, as though devils were cavorting about him.
With a last desperate summoning of will he broke out of the nightmare into reality. As before, everything was quiet. As before, he sat at his writing desk. He had a raging fever. He had to get out of here, go to bed. But he had no strength. He sensed that his consciousness had cleared only for a moment, that the delirium would again fall upon him as he sat in the abyss of visions.
For the third time the door inched open. "Now I'll see Mara," thought Nicholas. Mara entered. Her lips were clenched. Her gaze was fixed. She said, "I've come to you."
No longer had he the strength or the will to resist. She gestured for him to rise and follow. Like a lunatic he walked after her through the dark rooms and thought of how the delirium was changing the appearance of all the things in them.
In the living room the tapers in the candelabra were burning brightly. "Look," said Mara. On the divan lay two bodies. Lidia and Kate. Both were dead. Blood formed a dark red pool on the floor, huge circles of it had splattered the upholstery of the divan. The smell of blood filled the room.
Thoughts and visions roiled together in Nicholas' head. His body shuddered with every fibre. He clung to the back of a chair to keep from falling. There were flashes of time when he believed in the reality of everything he was seeing, and at other instants he realized that it was delirium. The desire to awaken and the desire to prolong the madness alternated.
Mara was saying something to him -- imperiously, commandingly. Thus, perhaps, would be the pronouncements at Judgement Day. By degrees Nicholas began to listen and to comprehend the meaning of her words.
"I killed them," said Mara, "because you loved them. This was the last hour and I couldn't let the opportunity slip by. It wouldn't come again. I agreed to be Fate. Fate must be beautiful. Only the love that crowns death can be truly beautiful. Our duel has been the duel of man and woman. You wanted all the world's women to belong to you; I was prepared to depopulate the whole world to assure that we would be together -- alone. You were the victor for a long time, but the last triumphal wreath is mine! Perhaps my victory has been won by betrayal -- so be it: love justifies everything, even betrayal. Our world is emptied now, for you and I have only a few hours to live and in those hours there will be just the two of us!"
Nicholas was still speechless. Perhaps he lost consciousness at times. Her face drained of color and distorted, Mara, thinking that he was wavering, began to speak to him of something else. But she had anticipated everything. To call anyone was useless. He would be considered an accomplice in the crime in any case; he would be tried and condemned....
Her last words almost made Nicholas laugh. The thought that tomorrow would have anything at all to do with this mad night seemed so ludicrous to him.
It seemed strange to Nicholas that he didn't notice when Mara disrobed. In the chamber of death she stood before him quite naked, as she loved to be when giving herself to him. Through the sultry smell of blood his nostrils flared to the unique scent of her body, so familiar to him.
Mara called him, tenderly, affectionately. "Come here, my darling, come. I want you to caress me. I want you. I want us to experience the very same thing at exactly the same moment. And then we'll both die, both together and at once. And death will be like a caress."
Only when Mara was quite close to him and pressed against him and looked into his eyes did Nicholas manage, finally, to answer her. "I know that you are a shadow, a vision, a phantom of Mara. But I want this and I can tell a phantom everything that I would not be able to say to Mara. I believe that of all the feelings that tortured and captivated me, only my feelings for her, your prototype, were sacred! Because our love was the attraction of bodies, a voluptuous craving, unspotted by either friendship or motherhood. Our love was an elemental mystery, unique in all worlds linking man with demons and angels." Nicholas himself couldn't grasp why he was talking of his love as though it were in the past.
They slowly sank down upon the rug, tightly embracing one another. Reality began to melt away and the little space upon which they had cast their two bodies became endless. They felt the lightheadedness that one feels in imagining oneself a bird soaring above an abyss and seeing directly in front of one's face other eyes, darkened with sensuality and one spins and spins and suddenly, losing hold, one falls with incredible speed into a foamy abyss.
Awakening, Nicholas again caught sight of the two dead bodies, still spread motionless on the divan. Lidia's face was submissive and, her plaintively opening lips asked, "Already?" But Kate's proud, tranquil face responded to the murder, "So be it!"
Nicholas wanted to get closer to the bodies, but Mara restrained him. "Don't. Don't."
There was wine and they drank it. They breathed in the scent of blood and wine and passion. They tried to look only into each other's eyes. Their faces burned and the guttering candles were reflected like sparks in their pupils.
Hours passed. Passion's ecstasies and passion's languor ebbed and flowed. There was the bliss of confessions of love and the bliss of silence. Their bodies were exhausted from embracing yet were insatiable for more. Their souls, opened as flourishing flowers once upon a time, beneath every uttered word descried the whole infinity of their significance. And then desire, insatiable, again and again bound them into one being and they writhed together, among the spatters of blood, writhed on the hard floor, barely covered with the rug.
Outside, through the raging storm, the sky began to lighten. Pale spots of light fell upon the walls, the furniture, the rug. The world slowly began to change.
For three days the regional newspapers were preoccupied with the monstrous event that had taken place in Nicholas S.'s country estate. The four bodies could tell no one of the mysteries of that terrible night. The servants were initially arrested, but afterwards released for lack of evidence. The affair remained an enigma to officials of the law. The news of the mysterious murder or suicide of the three sisters and the husband of one of them appeared in the capital newspapers only in the form of cursory notices in small print on the fourth page, in the "Provincial Chronicles" section. Readers would hardly be interested in an intimate family drama during the uproar and great political events taking place that year.
Translated in 1997