"Julia Voznesenskaya . . . [writes] about our life after death, the knowledge of which is kept by the patristic experience and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church." — Olga Golosova
I woke up, but did not open my eyes. The sea was roaring behind me. It turns out, either I managed to get out myself (I don't remember that), or the storm had thrown me, already unconscious, onto the shore. Some birds were screaming over my head. "Seagulls!" I remembered, and opened my eyes.
Before my eyes, a small spider climbed up a dry blade of grass.
"Shall we go on living?" I asked him.
I lay still for a little longer and then got up.
A wide sandy beach stretched to my right and left, and behind me there was a hill overgrown with bushes and squat pines. The sky was blue-gray, and the sun was hiding behind a haze, but I could feel its warmth on my face.
Where was my lop-eared monster? I jumped to my feet and looked around. Not a soul anywhere. I walked along the coast, shouting: “Lop-eared, where are you? Answer me!"
I went one way, then the other. On the shore, the storm left a ridge of garbage, and large objects were visible in it: fragments of trees, bushes covered with algae, dead fish. But nothing that even from a distance resembled my friend.
I walked along the water's edge, peering into the pits between the stones, against which the waves, still muddy after the storm, were breaking. I did not see anything resembling a human figure. Was he drowned and carried away by the storm into the open sea?
I ascended the hill, but even from the top of it I did not see anyone on the deserted shore. For some time longer I wandered around it, calling for him and crying with pity. My only friend, with whom I went through so many trials. So stupid and helpless and loyal. Where are you, my dear Lop-eared?
I found a narrow path in a pine forest and walked along it. After a while, it took me out onto a highway. Cars rushed along it in both directions, and on the side there was a footpath lined with oleander bushes, grayish with dust. Dust or not dust, those were real, natural flowers, white and pink. Stone benches stood between the bushes. I sat down on one of them, leaned back and closed my eyes. It smelled of oleanders and gasoline, hot asphalt and the sea. How good it was! And how dare he die near such a coast?
"Excuse me, you look like you don't feel well. Can I help you with something?"
I opened my eyes. Near me, bending sympathetically towards me, stood a tanned young man in jeans and a white T-shirt.
"You can, probably. My friend drowned during the storm. Are there any police here to report to about him and ask them to look for him?"
“I think I saw a police sign nearby. If you want, I will accompany you."
"I would be very grateful. I'm not from here."
We walked along the footpath and soon came out to elegant villas behind cast-iron and stone fences. Near them grew palms, prickly pears and yuccas, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and many roses. Everything is in bloom, but a little dusty.
"Have you come to our city from a long way away?" the stranger asked.
"From over the sea."
"By plane or by boat?"
"It seems we were swimming in the sea. But I can't say for sure, in the confusion I somehow forgot, you know..."
"That happens. You came here with a friend and immediately went swimming in an unfamiliar place, in a storm?"
"I think it was his idea. He's so romantic..."
"Was he a close friend of yours?"
"He was my only friend. And then he drowned..."
"That's so sad."
"And I have no friends in this city at all."
"How long have you lived here?"
"As long as I can remember, I've lived here."
So, talking, we came to a wide street with multi-storied buildings and large shops. Smartly dressed people walked towards and past us, careless and unhurried. Many carried beach bags, umbrellas and rolled up cane mats, a typical resort crowd.
It was already late morning, and the sun, emerging from the haze of the clouds, began to warm the air. On such a morning, one must leave the house in a light dress and a straw hat. We were just passing a clothing store with mannequins and mirrors in the window. Unbeknownst to my companion, I squinted my eyes at my reflection and calmed down: I was dressed appropriately. I was wearing a simple white dress, very open and yet modest and elegant, and a straw hat with a wide brim that fit me very well. I lowered my eyes and praised myself for choosing very open sandals for this weather.
"Are you in a hurry? Maybe we can have a cup of coffee?"
"With pleasure. It seems that I did not have time to do it at home, I was running errands."
"Have you finished them yet?"
"I decided to postpone them. In fact, they are not that important."
"Let's sit down!" he said.
We had just come up to some tables on the sidewalk in front of a small cafe. We sat down and he decided to continue our acquaintance.
"What is your name?"
Should I give my name? But what does it matter...
"Jeanne. What's your name?"
Never met anyone with that name.
"Double espresso?" George asked.
He ordered himself a large mug of plain coffee.
We sat and drank coffee and gazed at the sea, visible in the gap between the houses on the opposite side of the street.
I finished my coffee and decided it would be nice to walk along the promenade. I put down the empty cup on the table, got up and walked across the street.
On one of the houses I saw a signboard "Police". For some reason, for a moment, it seemed to me that I had something I needed to do with that institution, but since I did not immediately remember what, I decided that most likely it was some trifle and not worth spending such a calm morning worrying about. I walked past the police and soon walked out onto the embankment.
The beach was already full of sunbathers.
Some were swimming in the sea, young people were surfing or playing ball, but even more people were just strolling along the embankment.
Squat gray-green palms with barrel-shaped hairy trunks rustled in the wind. The colorful kiosks sold ice cream, drinks, souvenirs and various beach trifles.
I went to the barrier separating the embankment from the beach, leaned against it and began to look at the sea. Seagulls screamed over my head, and a calm blues tune came from the restaurant. Two girls in bathing suits stopped not far from me and began to feed the seagulls with slices of bread.
A large white bird, probably an albatross, flew low over me, and suddenly dropped something right at my feet.
I lowered my eyes and saw that it was a small round loaf. At first I casually kicked it away with the tip of my foot, but then I picked it up and also began to feed the seagulls.
Later, when I got tired of the birds, I walked along the embankment again, stopping at the stalls and looking at souvenirs. A park began at the end of the embankment. I decided to go there.
Near the park I came across a tall young man in blue jeans and a white T-shirt. His handsome tanned face seemed vaguely familiar to me. Coming up to me, he slowed down and bowed somewhat vaguely. I nodded politely and calmly.
“Sorry,” he said, stopping. "I did not recognize you at once. Is it really you?"
"Yes. And it is you. From a distance your face seemed familiar to me. How long it's been since we've seen each other!"
“I heard you had been completely lost. Did you go somewhere?"
"Yes, I was quite far from here."
"Were you traveling?"
"No, I wasn't traveling."
"Was it a business trip?"
"Something like that. But I don’t want to remember it. There were some troubles..."
"Are you in a hurry now?"
"No. I just went out for a walk on the coast."
"May I keep you company? We haven't seen each other for so long..."
"I would like that very much. I'm already bored of walking alone. However, you know, I'm always bored..."
He walked beside me.
"Do you like the sea?" I asked so that our silence would not seem dull to him.
"Yes. And you?"
"I do too. The man I loved and lost loved the sea very much. The blue sea."
"What was his name?"
"What does it matter to you? It doesn't matter at all, it was so long ago that I myself forgot his name."
We both fell silent.
"I also loved a woman and lost her. My wife. She died."
"What a pity."
We entered the park and came to a pond with strange green swans. A café was located nearby in a large round pavilion.
"Would you like to have a cup of coffee?"
"Yes, with pleasure. I don't think I had time to do it at home this morning."
We sat down at a table so that we could see the sea in the gaps between the trees. A young waitress came up to us.
"Double espresso?" my companion asked.
He ordered himself a large cup of plain coffee. I remembered that he always drank plain coffee with a lot of milk and sugar.
Not far from us, a huge Ferris wheel with light open booths was spinning to the music. I looked at it idly.
"What is your name?" he asked.
Should I give him my name? But why not...
"Ann. And you?"
I've never met anyone with that name.
"Did you arrive recently in this city?" Yegor asked.
"Yes, recently. But I am already bored of it."
"Do you want to admire it from above? The city is worth it, I assure you!"
We paid, got up, and walked to the wheel. We climbed the wooden steps to the platform, where the booths were held up for a short time so that people could take their places. Each booth was for one person. My friend let me go ahead, and he sat down in the next one. The wheel moved, and my booth, slightly shaking and swaying, floated up.
The city looked pretty elegant from above, several large parks and gardens around the mansions decorated it. The ancient castles on the hills surrounding the city and the bay gave it a special charm. But how familiar and tiring all of it has become! In fact, all seaside resort towns are similar to one another.
The wheel stopped, and my booth hung at the very top. The whole bay was visible from here. On one side it was locked by high, seemingly completely inaccessible rocks, going straight into the sea, on the other, far, to the very horizon, a strip of yellow beaches stretched. Almost the same long strip of sandbanks was discernible along it. City beaches here and there were interrupted by dunes overgrown with pine forests. Quite a boring landscape.
My booth went down and soon touched the platform. I opened the door, went out onto the platform, walked down the steps and walked towards the exit from the park. I was tired and wanted to go back to the boarding house, take a shower and go to bed.
At the boarding house the porter, seeing me, silently took the key to my room from the board and handed it to me.
"Was there any mail for me?"
"No, madam. Not today."
I went upstairs, undressed, took a shower and went to bed. I decided to watch TV before going to bed, took the remote control from the bedside table and began thoughtlessly pressing the buttons. All the programs showed the utmost nonsense, and I could not pay attention to anything. Then I took out sleeping pills and took two pills to fall asleep immediately and for sure. A thought flashed through my head: shouldn't I take all the pills, however many of them are left in the bottle, so that I wouldn't wake up tomorrow to start another long and unnecessary day? With this thought, I fell asleep.
In the morning I woke up late, with a broken body and a heavy head, and decided that I could not go on like this any longer. I needed to pull myself together and rest, like all normal people, because, in fact, there was no reason for melancholy and anxiety.
To decide to do something is good, of course, but where can one get the strength to do it? To begin with, I called the receptionist and ordered breakfast in my room, while I myself went to the shower. The water would only come out warm: no matter how I turned both taps, I could not get it either cold or hot, so I did not get a Swedish shower. While I was struggling with the shower, my coffee cooled down. As for appetite, I had none. Having rolled out the table with the already unnecessary breakfast into the corridor, I sat down to the mirror to somehow put myself in order.
I definitely didn't like my face in the mirror. It was smooth, of course, without a single wrinkle or speck. But before my eyes were blue, and now they are violet. The shape of my eyes has also changed: they have become larger and slightly pulled up to the temples.
My hair changed from light blond to golden with a red tinge, and without the help of dye, in a natural way. There was no way I could have been more than twenty-seven years old, but there was such a melancholy fatigue in those unusual violet eyes that I didn’t want to look in them myself. I slowly and diligently combed my lush hair, averting my eyes from some alien and completely uninteresting reflection in the mirror.
Then I spent a long time choosing a suit for today's walk, matching shoes, jewelry and a handbag. Finally I was ready, and the question of how to kill the new day arose before me with all the convincingness of its undecidability.
Hearing the porter's answer on duty: "There is nothing for you today, madam," I nodded, put the key on the counter and left the boarding house.
To begin with, I decided to walk along Main Street, which ran parallel to the embankment through the whole city. I looked at the fancy shop windows, but did not make any purchases. Then I was suddenly attracted by a tiny dragonfly made of silver with inserts of Australian opal, made in the Art Nouveau style. I opened my purse to see if I had enough cash. There was only small change, but I had also brought a bank card. I could get money from the ATM. I remembered the number, it was very simple - 666. I could also just buy the dragonfly with the card.
While I was standing in front of the jewelry store window and pondering, I suddenly noticed that the opposite side of the street was reflected in the window, and there was a gentleman who was clearly watching me. I turned away from the window and walked away quickly.
I've had quite enough of meeting people on the street!
He caught up with me at the intersection and touched me on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, don't you recognize me?"
His face seemed vaguely familiar to me, but otherwise he looked like hundreds of other passers-by: rather slender, athletic, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt.
"Have we met somewhere?"
"Yes, I think so. I have been following you for a long time and along the way I've been trying to remember where and when."
"So you've been following me?"
"So what? Why are you looking so threateningly at me? I just wanted to see your face and try to remember where we met! What is your name?"
"Did it not occur to you that you just noticed that I resemble one of your actual acquaintances?"
"No. You talk, and I can hear from your voice that we were very well-acquainted. I recognize all your intonations, I kind of hear them even before you open your mouth to scold me."
"I’m not scolding you. But I seem to have remembered where we met."
"So where was it? Speak quickly, please!"
"You were in the city park yesterday?"
"Yes, I think so... I often walk through the park, it is on my way from the beach to the hotel."
"And didn’t you ride the Ferris wheel yesterday?"
"Yes, I did! Yesterday I suddenly got the idea of looking at the city from a bird's eye view!"
"So that's where you and I saw each other. Yesterday I rode that wheel, and I think I noticed you too."
"I'm extremely flattered. It seems to me this occasion is worth going to a cafe and having a glass of champagne to celebrate."
"In the morning? I heard Russians say that only horses drink champagne in the morning."
"Then maybe coffee?"
"I will not refuse coffee. Besides, I was not able to drink coffee at home today."
"Is your maid on strike?"
I laughed, "I have no maid and never had one."
We walked down the street and soon came out to the square, where light tables with wicker chairs were placed in a multitude around the fountain. We sat down and ordered coffee. I ordered a double espresso and he ordered a large cup of plain coffee with double milk and sugar.
“You know,” he said, stirring his awful drink with a spoon, “I somehow can't believe that you've never had a maid. You are dressed and speak like a very fine lady."
"Alas, I am a very ordinary woman."
"And your husband, who is he?"
"I don't have a husband. He is long gone."
"You are a widow. Now I understand why you have such sadness in your eyes."
"Can't I just be an abandoned wife and be sad about that?"
"You? Never! No one would abandon a woman like you!"
Oh, so he's just an ordinary ladies' man. I immediately got bored. But he did not notice this and continued the conversation:
"Let's get to know each other for real. What is your name?"
Should I tell him my name? But what does it matter...
"Juanita. What's your name?"
I've never met anyone with that name. There's no point to me starting this acquaintance, I must stop it.
"Look, there is a girl on the corner selling roses. Please bring me one white rose."
He got up without saying a word and walked towards the girl. I also got up and walked the other way.
I spent a dull and empty day: I walked along the embankment, listened to a fake street orchestra playing, then went down to the beach, took a sun lounger and even swam a little. The water was warm, like cold tea, and therefore swimming in it only disgusted me.
I dozed in my sun lounger, while two young women were talking loudly next to me.
I didn't want to at all, but I had to listen to them from beginning to end.
"My dear! I am so glad to see you! Are you happy that I tracked you down in this enormous resting place?"
"No, I just came."
"Have you already bathed?"
"Yes, I had a snack on the embankment. The Greeks there have delicious sea fruit salads. Do you have a new swimsuit?"
"Sure. I told him that I like to be on the beach alone or with my friends. You know, I'm pretty tired of him already."
"Who managed to tell you? Just today he and I decided that from tomorrow on we will move into the same boarding house and rent a double room. He's so funny!"
"How horrible! I can't believe it . . . Although, you know, dear, with works of art it’s always like that: you focus on a high price and think about getting something genuine by a great master, and you are handed a daub of a beginner dropout who turns out to be a gallery owner’s nephew."
"I totally agree with you. In any case, I never advertise my manicurist, so as not to end up in line behind those I had the stupidity to give her phone number to."
"You're right! All men are deceivers, none of them can be trusted."
Their chattering gave me a headache and I left the beach. I found a seemingly cozy restaurant and decided to have dinner: maybe I'm just hungry, and that's why my head hurts?
I sat down at an empty table in the corner of the hall, ordered onion soup, shrimp barbecue, and white wine. I had just finished with the soup, when some poorly shaven person, all in metal and leather, sat down next to me, and immediately went on the attack:
"Are you bored, kitty?"
"I'm not bored, I’m having dinner. This table, by the way, is already taken."
"That's good! I'm alone too. We'll merge both of our loneliness into one glass and have a little fun."
"Could you leave me alone?"
"Don’t worry about it, baby: I have money today. I won the races. Champagne for you, whiskey for me."
"Don't you understand simple words?"
"What do you care about my name? I don’t remember my name myself!"
And he laughed at the whole restaurant. The waiter heard and approached us.
"This young man sat down uninvited at my table. Could you provide him with another one?"
"Right away, madam. A double espresso . . . Anything else for dessert?"
"The check, please."
He definitely heard that. I paid by card. All this time, the insolent man sat, imposingly lounging on a chair, and looking at me point-blank. I got up, and he got up at once, clearly ready to follow me.
"Where is the bathroom?" I asked the waiter in an undertone. He showed me the door around the corner of the bar. I went to the bathroom, and the guy stayed waiting for me at the exit from the restaurant.
I walked past the bathroom and pushed some unmarked door at random. It opened, and I saw a cramped courtyard in front of me lined with boxes and barrels. Quickly running across it, I found myself at the gate overlooking another street. I will not go to a restaurant alone in this city again, even in the early morning.
I got to the boarding house when it was already getting dark. But here, too, they were waiting for me. A stranger stood at the entrance with a white rose in his hand. Seeing me, he walked over smiling and holding out a rose.
"Here is your rose!"
"What rose? Are you out of your mind?"
"Not yet. You asked me to bring you a white rose, and I did. You're welcome!"
"Who are you and what do you want from me? I’ll call the porter now, and he’ll call the police!"
"Don't be angry, I'll explain everything now!"
"Okay. Explain." I went up to the porch and touched the bell button with my finger, but did not press it. "Well, what did you want to explain to me? Speak. I'll give you three minutes."
The stranger had such a miserable and confused face that I felt sorry for him. Besides, the face seemed vaguely familiar to me.
"I cannot speak to you right on the street. Maybe we can go to a restaurant and have dinner together?"
"I've already had dinner. And besides, it seems to me that you already approached me today or yesterday and even sat down at my table without an invitation. Stop following me!"
"Please listen to me!" his voice became pleading and seemed sincere to me.
"Well, have it your way. I will listen to you. We will go to the bar of my boarding house, order coffee, and after that you will tell me by what right you always find yourself in my way. Agreed?"
We entered the lobby, and I looked inquiringly into the eyes of the receptionist. He shook his head and handed me the room key. I put it in my purse and headed to the bar, and my pursuer followed me.
We sat on high stools at the counter, over which a huge mirror hung, and ordered coffee: me a double espresso, and he a large cup of plain coffee with milk and sugar.
"I am listening to you."
"What is your name?"
Should I give him my name? However, why not...
"Annie. And yours?"
I've never met anyone with that name.
"What did you want to tell me?"
"Not to tell, but to ask: where could I meet with you? Your face is so familiar to me!"
"I also know your face. We met on the street. The other day. And not only once or twice."
"No, not here, but before?"
"Where did you live before?"
"I lived in another country. But I don't remember what kind of country it was and what I did there. I was married to a beautiful and intelligent woman. While she was alive, everything was fine, I lived a normal life and was happy."
"Did you have children?"
"Yes, a son. But he disappeared after the death of my wife. Maybe she or my relatives took him in for education?" He rubbed his forehead with his hand. "No, I don't remember exactly."
"What was your wife's name?"
"I don't know, what was her name? Lizzie? Maryana? Ruth? No, I can't remember..."
"What do you do in this city?"
"Nothing . . . I just try to spend my free time having as much fun as possible."
"And what did you do in the past?"
"I think I was a sailor or a fisherman."
I often dream of a steel-colored sea, cold and uncomfortable. And the coast was flat and sandy.
"It could be the Baltics."
"Have you been there?"
"No. I think I read about it somewhere. Now it's your turn to ask."
"I already know that you are a widow. Did you have any profession before you came to this city?"
"I don't remember ever having to work. But I was interested in art, went to exhibitions and, it seems, I was very fond of cinema."
"Who was your husband? I think he must have been a wealthy man."
"I do not remember. Probably yes. But he was not in business, he was a kind and weak person."
"Did you have children?"
"No, there were no children."
"How did he die?"
"The plane in which he was flying home crashed. Or the ship he was sailing on sank. In my opinion, I have not been given the details."
"You said you loved art. What kind of music, for example?"
"Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn..."
"You talked about cinema. What films do you remember?"
"Old Polish films. 'Ashes and Diamonds', 'Landscape after the Battle', 'Channel' . . . I remember that I once liked the Russian director Tarkovsky. 'Stalker', 'Solaris' . . . "
"Maybe you are Russian or Polish?"
"Definitely not. I feel like a resident of Western Europe. Russia is something distant and alien, I have some unpleasant associations with it."
"Do you remember a landscape from your past life?"
I closed my eyes, remembering.
"A landscape . . . You know, I also remember the gray sea in the dunes."
"So, the Baltics! Or North Germany! We met on the shores of the Baltic or North Sea. And please open your eyes. I love looking at them so much. Did anyone ever tell you that you have extraordinary violet eyes?"
So he's just an exquisite resort ladies' man, if not a gigolo.
"Enough already!" I got angry and deliberately looked at him with brown eyes.
"Why did you do that? Please restore your natural eye color!"
How boring he is! Natural eye color . . . Why not restore my entire face to its natural appearance? Who knows, it might even be funny.
I turned to face the bar to see the reflection of my face when it changed, and focused, eyes closed. When I opened them, I saw in the mirror the haggard, lipless face of an old woman with sore, faded gray eyes and gray hair hanging along her sunken cheeks.
"It's you! I've found you!"
I turned to my interlocutor. He looked at me with happy eyes.
"Don't you recognize me? It's me, me! You called me Lop-eared! . . . Look!"
He closed his eyes for a moment. His face was distorted, floated, and then turned into a skull covered with parchment skin with huge protruding ears. He opened his eyes, and tears rained down from them.
"Lop-eared! My priceless monster! Where have you been?"
We jumped up, dropping our chairs, and threw ourselves into each other's arms.
Chapter 10 — Coming soon . . .
Source: Мои посмертные приключения (Russian)
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