6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

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...and Night. Irina

Again I am alone in my room.

Shall I go down to the theatre? There are people there, activity. My comrades. They understand everything. Well, not everything, but a good deal.

Well, apparently I must read that letter. This is not curiosity, there is no room for that now. But if she's here and I must speak to her eventually, I must know how to do it. Perhaps he is planning to marry her if he gets well? Or break off with her altogether? I should really know.

I bring out the envelope, open it. A neatly written letter; the handwriting does not betray any excitement. But then I am no specialist on graphology.

Now, let's see.

'My dear little Irina! My darling!

'It is so difficult to write a letter which may become the last one. The operation is booked for the day after tomorrow. True, I'm afraid that the professor might refuse at the last moment, but this is improbable. I have convinced him there is no other way out for me.

'Today I'm arranging my affairs; writing to you, sorting out my papers. I will leave all this with the professor. I am certain that you will come to see him. But remember that even in sorrow a person must behave with dignity.

'I wanted so much to write you a tender and beautiful letter, but somehow this doesn't work out.

'Tomorrow will be too late to write. I'll have visitors in the daytime, and in the evening they will stuff me full of medication and will not permit me to do anything. Do you know how fear accumulates within one as the end draws near?

I am trying to order myself not to succumb to it, to hold myself in check. I'm trying to think about science, about Serezha1, about you, but fear continues to grow in the back of my mind, and now and then it comes out with an innocent little thought like this: "If you'd only give yourself a couple more weeks, you could have worked out the programme of imitation reflexes." The devil is so clever! He does not work directly, he does not tell you: "refuse!" No, he acts craftily, insidiously, from your subconscious.

'I struggle. I resist him all the time. I am a mathematician. I know there are no two weeks any longer, any day my condition may become inoperable.

'And still there is fear. Sometimes various images appear. Thunderstorms, hurricanes, scenes of sharp discussion, or you, as it all used to be when there was strength, excitement, keenness of emotion. And then my heart begins to ache: Irochka, my little Irina! And I begin to lament miserably in my soul: "Why me? Why has it happened to me? What for?"

'I am probably expressing all this badly. I've never liked long letters, but today I see no end to this one. You must forgive me. I have become weak, I want to talk my fill before death. I don't deceive myself. Only before my doctors and my wife I try to put on a brave front: let them think that I am full of the "will to live". Doctors say that this helps a patient. Unfortunately my morale is quite low. I insist on this operation simply because I can't act against the most elementary logic: with the operation I have a small chance, without it, none. Therefore I'm trying to hold myself together, and not go to pieces, not to invoke the programme of grief.

'Then I'm sustained in my determination by fatigue. I'm tired of being sick, I'm tired of living like an invalid, and I have become disillusioned in many things. The only thing really left is science, my work. To think, to search for connections between elements gives me pleasure. I am willing to foreswear everything else for it. Please don't think that I exaggerate my importance: I'm no Newton, and I don't think I'd ever greatly benefit humanity. (But in the back of my mind, a question: perhaps I can benefit humanity in some degree, after all?) Even if this happened, it wouldn't be important to me, I shall be dead before my work could ever be brought to conclusion. If people should be able to use it later, to build on my premises, it would be beneficial for the higher system, society, and not for me. Therefore I have no vanity. But the very process of thinking, creating, finding new things is incredibly exciting. Because of it I'm willing to face all risks. Of course maybe I'm not altogether sincere in that: in my subconscious there stirs another thought: if I get well I'll be able to have some animal programmes as well. But those programmes have never been very important to me.

'Forgive me for all this twaddle. My brain is in a turmoil.

'Remember how we used to study the mechanics of happiness? I have calculated the balance of my potential happiness. Without the operation, it is nil, and no matter what should happen, it will be an improvement. That is why surgery is necessary even though the risk is very high, probably about seventy per cent against me.

'Now let's suppose that I survive. I shall never be completely well; without doubt the functions of many organs have been badly undermined and will never return to normal. Asthma will probably remain and all my physical programmes will be curtailed. I shall have to diet because of my liver. My rheumatism will periodically become acute; it means that I shall always have to keep out of draughts and close all the windows. In a few years the artificial valve will start acting up, this probability amounts to about forty per cent.' (How I wish I had such mathematical optimism! Let's continue:) 'Then again, decompensation, and so on and so forth. Therefore, when I consider everything, my enthusiasm is not very great. Sometimes I think that the best way out for all of us would be for me not to wake up after the operation. Oddly enough, this thought also gives me some comfort.

'No, of course, I want to live; I want to model the human psyche. I am deeply involved in this work, poisoned by it, and nothing is very important to me compared to this. My animal programmes are inhibited by my illness, and I don't know whether I want to revive them at all. At the moment they seem utterly unimportant. Even my son, Serezha, has become distant. All I have is some naked ideas which are breeding in my brain day and night. I understand everything, including the mechanics of my involvement in this. I am guilty before you, but what can I do if I can't feel otherwise? Pretend? Lie? It seems to be too late for that. The fact is that science programmes have taken complete possession of my brain, a true hypertrophy. This may sound a ridiculous phrase to you, but these terms are dear to me because I have invented them.

'All this is sad, my darling. Perhaps it is cruel to tell you all this, but to whom else can I talk? You must forgive me. You are alive and you are well. You are not a romantic girl of Turgenyev's and not an Anna Karenina. Concentrate on your own programmes, and please don't leave too much room there for myself. You know how unpleasant it is to be a bankrupt debtor.

'This is all, my darling. One must end the letter sometime.

'Just in case - goodbye!

'I kiss you tenderly, like then.


The letter has been read.

Let us have a smoke.

A strange impression, a slightly unpleasant one, I expected romanticism, passion, but instead, just programmes, mathematics. He has asked me to pass this letter on in any event, whether he survives or not. He should have written two letters: a tender one in the event of death, and this if he remains alive. He refuses her love, this is quite clear. And he does not love her. But why must she know it if he is dead? What practical purpose would such knowledge have? Has he ever loved her? And is he capable of real love, like others love, with all their souls? His heart belongs to science. 'Hypertrophy of dominating models.' He has spoken to me about them, explaining the mechanics of passion, of fixation. Yes, normal animal programmes have been dying in him for some long time now. This is normal: during decompensation many bodily functions become inhibited. But is love, true love, a bodily function? Apparently it is, with Sasha.

Not a pleasant letter. Somehow, not very noble. I did not expect this from Sasha. But then, why not? I remember some of his statements. Ideals are unnecessary. Sasha is very intelligent, but his emotional make-up may be only average, the thing which we call soul. He doesn't want to see her any longer. He sacrifices her to his fantasies. Or perhaps he is tired of lying? Perhaps he has made a resolution: if I get well I will not deceive anyone any more. In everybody's subconscious there are some dark corners. Storage room for dishonesty.

However, I must not jump to conclusions. I have not sufficient material to pass any judgment.

I would like to read the chapters in his notebook about love and happiness. No, later. I've already been caught this way. I'd better go down and see how he is doing.

Why didn't she come to see him before the operation? Probably he had asked her not to. And how would I have acted in his place?

I am walking down the stairs anticipating surprises. For instance: I come into the theatre and find everything in perfect order. Sasha is awake, the heart works well, the haemorrhage has stopped. They are ready to move him into the ward. A sigh of relief, and a warm feeling spreading all over my body. A victory!

No, I'm not that lucky. Miracles happen very infrequently. It could be a different picture: the blood pressure seventy and falling, the blood dripping freely through the drainage tube. 'Why haven't you called me?' 'We thought -'. 'Idiots, who told you you could think?' Probably this is exactly how it is. My heart is uneasy. I know there is no precognition. All those telepathic notions have never been scientifically proved. And yet. Let's hurry.

I open the door timorously. One look, and I see everything.

No, nothing dramatic has happened, one way or another. The scene is peaceful. A mere routine. Sasha is breathing by himself even though the oxygen tube is still in his mouth. His eyes are half-closed. It seems to me that his lips are not as blue as they were before, but this might be the electric light.

Dima is again sitting next to Oxana. Let them, she is a fine girl and they'll make a good couple. The electric impulses are racing across the monitoring screen measuring the heart beats. Genya is sitting on a low stool counting the blood drops in the tube with a stop-watch; there is a great deal of blood in the bottle. Perhaps they haven't emptied it for some time? Lenya is writing something in the journal. There is no one else in the room.

'All right, let's have it!'

Dima jumps up, embarrassed. He hasn't noticed my entrance. All right, Dima, I haven't noticed anything either. I was young myself, once.

'The pulse fluctuates between a hundred and ten and a hundred and thirty. The blood pressure ninety, and steady. Genya, how many drops?'

'Forty, but it was sixty before. For an hour and a half after the restart of the heart, almost three hundred cubes.'

'And a little more precisely?'

'Two hundred and eighty-five.'

'Do you consider this normal?'

'No, but it seems to decrease. I don't think this is really alarming.'

'You don't think!'

Silence. I'm thinking. Perhaps really this is not too bad. There hasn't been much time. The bleeding may well stop by itself. Especially as there has been a decrease in the flow.

'Have you released urine?'

'Yes, about fifty cubes. Very dark.'

Can it be that we shall now have kidney trouble? However, for an hour and a half this might be sufficient.

'Have you administered anti-haemorrhage drugs?'

'Of course. Here are the charts.'

'I don't need them. I trust you.'

I trust, but not always. That is why they push their charts at me. Generally, I trust them. They are fine youngsters, but they don't like paper work. And anyway, supervision never hurts. Blind trust alone is never enough, it's an invitation to carelessness. They all have enough selfless devotion for a three-night bedside vigil, but often not enough perseverance for a properly written case history. Don't they realize the importance of records? Indeed, it is difficult to compare a patient and a piece of paper. No comparison, but paper is also important. This is an element of organization without which no proper work is possible.

All right, enough of bookkeeping. What's to be done about the haemorrhage? This is our most pressing problem, even though both the heart and kidneys are still in grave danger.

'Do you have sufficient blood for transfusion?'

'Yes. Enough.'

'Let's wait an hour, then get together and discuss the situation. Don't remove the tube from the trachea. Keep him under sedation.'

I go out. I don't want to stay there. There is nothing to talk about, and there is nothing I can do to help. Shall I go through the wards? No, I don't want to do that either. I can't get over Sasha, and I hate to see more suffering tonight. Even thinking about surgery makes me feel sick. I am probably not suited for this work. Fool, it's much too late to think about that! To talk to Raya perhaps, to encourage her a little? And what about that other one, Irina? Well, I'm caught. Really caught. In fact at the moment I don't give a damn about either of them. All my resources of compassion for today have been exhausted. I'm dry.

And so, back to my room.

But what to do there?

First, let's eat this fruit salad. There is such a bitter taste of tobacco in my mouth. I always smoke like a chimney after operations.

Cherries, apples, a tasteless concoction, not home-made. Not important. It goes well with the roll.

That letter... Love. It is good to grow old and withdraw from it all. Much quieter, more comfortable. Perhaps it is too early for me? No, I wouldn't want it. Enough of emotional upheavals... Unpleasant memories... 'What! Soak stale bread in water again? Keep digging!' There was a morbid war-time anecdote like that about a man, tired of life, facing a firing squad before an open grave and offered a chance of life imprisonment in exchange for a confession.

One can get tired even of love.

Read the notebook? I'm afraid to touch it, in my mind it is already associated with that awful moment: 'the heart's stopped!' It's terrible to even remember it. Nonetheless, we did start the heart up! Otherwise I could have been home already. With an empty head and despair in my soul. Both those women, Raya and Irina, would have been in hysterics. Yes, so far it has turned out well. He is alive. Am I sure that everything will be all right? No, a peaceful scene in the theatre does not deceive me. Anything may happen yet. Anything and everything: another stoppage, unstoppable haemorrhage, second operation, heart failure. Frantic massage. The pupils have already been enlarged for ten minutes!' Death. Another possibility: the haemorrhage has been arrested, but the amount of transfused blood causes kidney insufficiency. Death on the third day. Full consciousness to the very end. The eyes: 'Can anything be done at all?' Nothing.

Enough. No point in exaggerating. The valve is good. If the insertion were not satisfactory, he would have been dead by now.

Let's take a look at that notebook nonetheless. For instance, about love. Fears are really superstitions.

I rifle through it. Here it is: 'Programmes of love...'

This has been written fairly recently since it is almost at the end of the book, and written at length. It means that he was no longer in love with Irina when he wrote it, if one believes his letter. The sober outlook of a scientist.

'First. The innate programme of the sex instinct as a part of a more general urge of propagation of species...'

This is clear. This instinct persists in all living things; otherwise life would have ceased long ago on this planet. It wouldn't be easy to create complex organisms in a test-tube even though they say that theoretically this is quite possible.

'The model of this programme rests in the endocrine system, primarily in the sex glands and in the cerebral centres. This model is very complex and involves the centres of feeling and movement, the whole set of complicated mechanical programmes activated by regulatory spheres of the entire organism.

'In animals this programme is connected with seasons, and once activated it is not arrested even by the self-preservation instinct until the final fulfilment.'

Yes, stronger than death.

However one must not consider the sex instinct in animals as a mere urge to engage in copulation. This is love in the full sense of this word, a special psychological state producing profound changes in the entire behaviour. It's a nightingale's song and nuptial dances of certain animals. It is self-denial.

I will skip some details given by Sasha, they are much too well known. It is strange, he can be both very profound, and also trite and shallow, even primitive in his approach. The tendency for over-simplification, purely mechanical clarity, without a true research foundation. Of course, working in a hospital bed with death staring you in the eye, one cannot be expected to go into any deep research: one must work, so to say, by touch.

Here is, for instance, Sasha's diagram of the human being:

Let's see what this means:

'In the human being there is a close correlation between all three components activating this particular programme. Both the activation and arrestation depends on all three. Love as emotion originates in the cortex, then is passed to the brain, but becomes active only if supported from below, from the endocrine gland system.

'First there appears longing, indefinite agitation, still unconscious searching. Vague interest in the opposite sex. These cerebral programmes can be greatly stimulated by outside influences, books, pictures, conversations, etc. Gradually the search becomes conscious. Here we notice various changes in psychology: stimulation of some programmes, inhibition of others. All this comes from the brain, and is stored in the subconscious.

'Selection of the object...'

Damn, how prosaic all this sounds! I don't feel like reading on. Of course all this is correct: cerebral models of ideals, plus irritation and stimulation from the sex glands. But is this the way to describe falling in love? (Why not soaring to love?) What poetry, what purity, what fragrance. And after all this, 'programmes...'

'The next stage: a swift torrent of impulses from the cortex to brain to the endocrine system. The programme develops swiftly. This is love. Meetings, intellectual discussions, still clean intentions. The cortex colours this programme in magnificent hues. One should not think that this state is limited only to human beings.' (Ah, I'm glad he sees this!) 'A nightingale, for instance, can go through this stage just as acutely. They say that he is capable of actually dying of love.

'Caress comes next. New receivers are connected, new emotions, new programmes come into play involving physical motions, both innate and acquired. Gradually the endocrine system begins to take over. Emotional contact is no longer sufficient, it loses its power of stimulation and becomes a habit. At a certain level of this stage, desire comes in, a very concrete set of physical programmes. This is the climax. After that, a unique sense of sexual gratification and profound physical and emotional satisfaction.

'But... this also begins to grow into a habit. This is based on a certain law governing the nervous system. Also, the endocrinal influence undergoes certain changes. The stimulation from below does not reach the brain as rapidly as before, and the exciting of the cortex becomes difficult. This is the critical period: here comes the reappraisal of the object on the basis of previously adopted criteria of beauty, charm, intellect. If this trial is not passed successfully, the braking influences are applied from above. The reaction of the brain centres diminish to the minimum, and this is the end of love. For a while passion can be still agitated from below, through physical sex stimuli, temporarily invoking the long-forgotten programmes, but the result is not satisfaction, but irritation.

'Contrariwise: if the partners have passed the trial of reappraisal, then love enters a quiet stage, is periodically activated by both the brain and gland systems and may last very long.'

(But is this love?)

'It is impossible to determine all the levels of love because the variations are endless. The sensuous and intellectual elements are intermingled differently in each individual. This is typical of all forms of behaviour combining both the animal and social programmes of behaviour.

'Which is stronger then, the cortex, or the lower levels, cerebrum and hormones? The brain, unquestionably. Animal passions cannot unite two intelligent human beings permanently, and can only periodically inundate all cerebral programmes.

'Love is a physical urge, just like hunger and thirst, only more complex. All three can produce profound psychological changes. Love evokes the most pleasurable feelings and therefore man, trying to model it in his brain, has endowed it with romantic qualities, Generally it is a positive factor in society, but care must be exercised in order to restrain it from becoming a socially harmful phenomenon. Sex-education is an all-important factor since sex is a tremendous force and must be handled intelligently. It should not be suppressed, but over-stressing it is a definite danger. This danger exists in all animal programmes which must be handled with wisdom lest they spread into all spheres of human behaviour and make the task of building the future ideal society all but impossible.'

Generally, a well-written chapter. However I notice that he is avoiding the question of fidelity. The reason for infidelity rests probably also in animal programmes and only brain can guide one here. Again, the question of education. Education of emotion.

'The programmes of love are different in men and women.' Naturally. Women bear children.

'Love should not be equated with the sex act, even though this act is the direct result, or rather logical conclusion of it. Here again, the brain as a powerful model-producing installation, creates a series of different programmes which are responsible for all gradations in love from platonic adoration to brutal sensuous contact.'

Enough for a while. When love is described in the language of programmes and structures it loses all its charm. This is why artists are so opposed to cybernetics. Sasha holds that this is because the computers are not as yet sufficiently developed. They are not perfected enough to compete with living systems. But all this is a matter of time. Probably it is something which he writes about in some other chapter.

However I don't feel like reading this any longer. Time creeps by like a snail. Go back and check? Again, I don't feel like it. One must have patience and not dash in and out all the time. Otherwise one will not notice all the changes.

Haemorrhaging. The lowered coagulation level or some small vessel broken during the massage? Unfortunately all our analyses don't give us a completely accurate picture of coagulatory processes. This is also a very complicated programme. There is no point in guessing. Very well. We have decided to wait an hour, so let's wait.

And only twenty minutes have passed so far.

Shall I speak to Irina? I feel very guilty here. Besides I would like to know what Sasha intends to do if he recovers. I don't suppose he'd need my advice, but still.

And the letter? Must I give it to her under any circumstances as he told me to do? Perhaps I have some right to decide this. Yes, I definitely have a right. Obviously I must speak to her. Or postpone it a little? All right, I'll see her and simply tell her about Sasha.

I go into the hall, knock at the door and say quietly:

'You can come in now.'

Is she asleep? I don't think so.

In a moment I hear the creaking of the laboratory door and in another moment she appears in my room. I will try to be kind to her, to smooth over my previous roughness. It is not her fault that she has fallen in love with a married man.

'Please sit down.'

She sits down stiffly, silently, looking at me with cold censoring eyes, like a Madonna.

'Relax. His condition has improved.'

I wanted to say, 'is quite satisfactory', but caught myself in time. Superstition. Stupid, but true.

For a moment she sags and even closes her eyes. But then she sits up straight again. Fine self control.

I turn on the desk lamp and switch off the overhead light. Let her face be in shadow. It is not necessary for anyone coming in to see her, and to recognize her later. They might want to know who she is. Well, just an acquaintance. Is it possible that she has never been in this clinic to see him? That means he does not love her at all. Well, that is rather evident from the letter.

I will hold the letter back for a while. In his notebook he explains his theories about animal programmes, who knows, it might all come back to him if his health improves sufficiently. Or is it better for him if it doesn't come back? Probably. Shall I give the letter to her then ? No, I'd better wait. I don't think much about Raya, she's hardly the wife for a man like Sasha, but there is Serezha, and there is nothing anyone can do about that. He can't escape that responsibility, not completely, in any event. That is my opinion even though not everyone shares it. Could a situation like this be solved mathematically? Sasha would have said, 'yes'.

Let me talk to her.

'So far there isn't very much I can tell you. He wakes up now and then. He looked at me quite consciously.'

I suppose she would have given much to have him look at her. He probably knew once how to look at her.

Briefly I tell her about the operation and about everything which has happened since. I try to be factual, suppressing all emotion. She sits silently, stiff, as though made of stone. Only her eyes are alive.

'Please tell me what can be expected in the immediate future? I must know everything. Don't be afraid, I can bear it.'

Yes, obviously she knows how to keep herself in check. But what can I tell her when I don't know myself? But let's try to be gentle; I don't feel so terribly anguished any more. I know he is lying down there alive, and that his blood pressure is about one hundred. And that all the very dangerous time barriers have been safely overcome. Therefore I am now kind, patient, and can explain everything.

'There are several spheres of danger. First, the weakening of the heart beat. This can happen even though I don't anticipate a second heart stoppage. Tomorrow and the day after we may face decompensation, but probably not in an acute form as before. Second, the haemorrhage. Unless it stops soon a rather critical situation will arise. We shall know this tonight. The third danger, the weakening of kidney function because of haemolysis, the destruction of red corpuscles. This we shall also know fairly soon, by urination. Those are the main points, but there might be any number of unforeseen complications.'

A pause. 'You will not leave?'

For a moment I feel anger stirring inside me. I don't like it when people trust me more than is necessary. But Sasha is alive. So I control myself:

'I'll stay here tonight, for as long as is required.'

What else can I talk to her about? But I see she is deeply disturbed, she has probably gone through agony these few days. It is quite possible that I am the only one who knows about their affair. She has no one else she can turn to.

Raissa Sergeyevna can cry openly and people will try to comfort her. But this one must control her anguish. No one can measure love and tell which one is suffering more. However, theoretically this must be possible. All emotions produce changes in the system. They can be measured, but this isn't easy, a problem for the future. This damned cybernetics has stuck in my mind. Here you have a human being, a good woman who suffers cruelly, and you are trying to reduce her suffering to figures. Yes, if Sasha survives, he will definitely make me abnormal, like himself. I remember his letter.

There she sits staring into space, her eyes full of suffering. She should talk a little, unburden herself. This would help her. And I must know more about her in order to decide about the letter.

'Tell me about yourself.'

An instant protesting move. But I cut it off:

'Please don't get your back up. I'm a doctor and a close friend of Sasha's. I have the right to know something about this side of his life.'

A quick look, searching, appraising, slightly distrustful. I look back with quiet, serious eyes trying to assume the kindest possible expression. Quite sincerely. And in the back of my mind a quick thought: 'she is beautiful'. A reflex from my younger days. It probably lives in a man until very old age. But it is not supported from below and therefore does not produce any behaviour programme. But I'm slightly ashamed of myself anyhow.

'Go ahead, tell me. It will make it easier for you.'

She makes a move across the desk, towards me. Another look and I feel something tickling me between the shoulder blades; this often happens to me listening to music or poetry.

'I love him. I love him very much. Very much.'

She drops her head. I can't see her eyes any more, only her long lashes. This is melodramatic. A pause.

'He is going away from me. And I'm desperately unhappy.'

A quick impulse to tell her: 'fight for him!' But Sasha is sick, any excitement is dangerous for him; this is not the kind of advice a doctor should give. No, I can't help her, except to listen to her sorrow.

'Tell me.'

There is bitterness in her voice:

'What can I tell? A rather trite story, if one looks at it from the outside. It is unusual only to me. All right. I am thirty-two. A university graduate, a psychologist. Working at one of the institutes. A science candidate.'

A thought: 'Sasha's theories. That's where it all comes from. Freud.'

She pauses, and then continues evenly. The ice is broken.

'My childhood and youth were quite good. My father was a well-known engineer who died a few years ago. My mother died even earlier. I was left with my brother, a few years younger than I. He got married, and has drifted away from me. Perhaps it is my imagination, but this is painful to me. We were such good friends.'

Another pause.

I am listening, casting quick glances now and then in the direction of the door. Are they coming for me? Some twenty-five minutes more must have gone by.

She continues after a little sigh, as if overcoming an obstacle.

'I was also married. In my second year in university, very young. Love lasted for a year, then it was gone. We tried to overlook this for a couple of years more, then parted friends. No children. I was glad then, but now I regret it. Actually my husband was a good man, and I still respect him. I just don't know what happened, love just disappeared as if it had never been there at all. A person becomes a stranger, and everything about him begins to irritate you. Forgive me, like many women, I like to talk too much... If you must leave, tell me.'

'No, I'll go in ten or fifteen minutes, unless they call me sooner.'

A thought: 'She is really remarkably beautiful, without any sexual considerations.' The reflex is smothered. But Sasha has good taste.

'I graduated ten years ago. Do you know what psychology is?'

'Only superficially. Mostly from novels.'

'Well, psychologists probably know just as little. There are two schools; one based on philosophy, another on physiology. The first group work primarily with quotations, the second attempt to experiment. And since they were hit by Pavlov twenty years ago, they can't recover. And only very recently, actually within the last two years or so, there have appeared new influences and attempts to develop some exact method of investigation.'

I have heard all this from Sasha. Even some words are his. Or is it vice-versa? I don't think so.

'I was a good student and became very keen. I worked on some stupid thesis for four years, I'd been investigating the processes of attention amongst our students. At first I was terribly interested, our professor seemed like God to me. He knew so much and lectured so well. Don't think there was anything romantic in this, he was quite old. I defended my thesis in this institute, and at this point I started to grow cold towards our science. Understood that it was nothing but affectation and complicated terminology. Neither a clear hypothesis, nor precise methods. Actually we are just marking time. Spending hours in conversation. This became annoying to me, but I myself could not offer anything, neither a new theory, nor any original approach. I don't fool myself about my abilities.'

(And I am thinking: 'Here is your main problem, my dear woman, and no one can help you. There are women like this, intelligent, even brilliant, but without a creative spark. Some of my best assistants are like that. Some of them will become professors, but they'll never originate anything. But wait... have you yourself brought in anything new? Well, anyway... Yes, yes, "anyway"! So let's listen:')

'Four years ago I lost all taste for work. I was just going to the institute, walking around, writing a few articles a year so that they would not fire me and take away my salary. Whatever you say, the pay scale of an advanced science worker is not that of a simple teacher. I was living strangely then. Probably quite well. I went to theatres and concerts, never missing a single appearance of any foreign artist. I had a good, smart set of friends, journalists, artists, or simply clever people. I was reading Polish and German books, I know both those languages from my mother. It was quite pleasant, and rather empty. I had some... well, close male friends, but none of those things lasted. But I had never had any real happiness. Sometimes in the evening I would get so depressed I wouldn't know what to do with myself. And then I started thinking and realized that things could not go on like this.'

Another pause. A very short one.

'Well, anyway, by the time Sasha appeared in our institute two years ago, I was ready to leave, to become a teacher, to get married, to have a bunch of children and start raising a family. With years, instincts had become stronger, I could not look calmly at a child in the street. And I almost stopped going out - lost all interest in social life...

'As you probably know, he was then involved in the theory of modelling psyche. His general method is also known to you: first he works everything out in his head, sometimes quite roughly, develops his theories and theses, and only then starts reading literature on the subject and talking to others. He came to the institute with some general hypotheses in order to sharpen them in discussion with psychologists. He gave three lectures, and of course charmed everyone, especially women and the very young. We women accept things through our emotions, especially when a man is so good-looking. His health was still quite good then.'

'No, it wasn't good at all. But he kept his illness a secret.'

'Yes? Well, then he did this very well. I learned about his heart condition only half a year after... after we became close friends.'

I am thinking about various physiological things. Is she unobservant or just inexperienced?

'He had no particular success in our institute. We applauded him, but when it came to discussion there was no meeting of minds. Different approaches, different terminology. So he left with a firm belief that we were idiots. And our learned professors called him a charlatan, or mildly, a dilettante. But seeds had been planted, and some of us started to go to his institute to his classes, or just to talk to him. That was very interesting. He was so different from the dry sceptics among my friends, or from our professors. He had logic, clarity, and faith. Yes, faith in science, in the unlimited future of humanity. Faith based on firm theories and beliefs, real faith.

'I fell in love quickly, and completely. How could it be otherwise? He knew it. I didn't even try to conceal it. We started to meet in parks, libraries, theatres. Then he started to come to me. I was living alone with my brother-father was already dead, and we had a large flat. Forgive me for telling you these details. But my love was complete and real, I am not a little girl. We had talked a great deal. He had told me so much that was original and intelligent, more than I had heard in my first thirty years.'

My dear woman, but you are in love! Of course, no matter what he says is clever and remarkable to you. Especially because this is often true. It is satisfying to think that he will continue to live... I wonder how the haemorrhage is? And the urine?

She is gazing into space and probably sees her old Sasha there.

'I think he also loved me then. Not the way I did, but enough. It was enough for me. This was a sort of honeymoon for us. I took a new interest in science, started to read books on cybernetics, study mathematics. I tried to keep up with him. He selected a theme for a thesis for me, and I fought for it tooth and nail. Our students laughed at me a little, they all knew about Sasha, but generally they were sympathetic. The thesis was accepted. It was titled "The psychology of aesthetics in the cybernetic interpretation". A cumbersome title, but my aim was to spread Sasha's theories into the arts. I am still involved in this work, it still holds me. But nevertheless I'm a woman, and probably a fool, because without him my work loses its grip on me. I often think that I'd trade all this for just an opportunity to be his wife, bear his children and iron his shirts. Perhaps I would get tired of all this quickly, but this is how I feel now.'

I am thinking: 'Of course you'd get tired. You, our Soviet women, do not even realize what great advances you have made, and how infinitely more interesting and intelligent you are than the women of the West. For instance, why should my wife work? We have no servants, and there is a lot to do around the house and certainly enough money. But she comes from her clinic often later than I. She gets tired, she grumbles, but she would never trade her work for leisure. "Not interesting!" Quite right. Good woman.'

'In my mind I knew that my love was hopeless, but in my heart I continued to believe in it. In my imagination I pictured various scenes of our mutual domestic bliss. As if some catastrophe had happened, and his wife was no longer with him. Various pictures, some of them brutal. But then I would shake my head and say, "Idiot!" At that time I thought that he really loved me, that he wanted to become a part of my life. I introduced him to some of my friends, and saw that he was jealous. I was so happy! I thought it was a proof. But he didn't like my friends. I remember he said, "small fry". Perhaps I made a mistake. I don't know.'

She is silent now, sad. I too remain silent. A minute. Two minutes.

'Irina Nikolaevna, perhaps you will tell me all?'

She waves her hand, a gesture of utter defeat and bitterness. How expressive some gestures can be! A throaty voice, a good actress:

'There is nothing to tell.'

But then, after a brief pause, she decides to continue. Perhaps just to be able to stay here, and not to be alone. This is simply for me. Without any spirit.

'Our happiness did not last long. If one could call that happiness.' (A tone of bitter irony.) A stolen happiness, you understand?'

Associations. Memories. Yes, I understand.

'Of course, I couldn't keep up with him. I tried, I read, I worked. But then I started to notice that he was not with me. You know how I like to talk. I would stop suddenly, look at him and understand that he was far away, not even listening. That would be only a moment, he would collect himself and become tender and attentive again. But I saw all, understood all. I knew that he was withdrawing from me, and I was in despair. I didn't know what to do. You know how it happens in dreams. Someone very dear to you is going away, disappearing, you run after him, stretch your arms, cry. And he is gone. You fall on the ground, weeping, and wake up. Then you walk half a day under the spell. It is the same thing now. Only I won't wake up.'

She sighs. A brief silence. Her eyes become moist, but then she pulls herself together and they are dry again.

I am also silent. What can I say? I have never developed the professional knack of consoling broken-hearted relatives. I am sorry for them, but the right words don't come to me easily.

She continues:

'Actually this is the end of the story. This coincided with his illness, or rather with his relapse, as you tell me. But I don't think that was the cause.'

I instantly remember his letter, his notebook. His description of love.

'You are mistaken. This could very well be the direct cause. I don't believe in disembodied love among adult people.'

And my thought: 'He simply couldn't. This led to a belief in his insufficiency. He was too proud to admit it and wanted to escape. And even the emotional cooling off was probably connected with his physical debility. I wonder how it was with them on the purely intellectual plane? It works sometimes, but not often.'

'And how did your own work progress?'

'I was trying hard. Of course, when he started to draw away, my capacity for work started to diminish. I thought more about him than about my theories. But still, my work was progressing. I had read literature on the subject, spoken to some scientists, some art specialists. And of course, to Sasha. Certainly if I ever achieve anything, it will be his thoughts in my words. I think that eventually I shall finish it. Of course just as soon as I sensed his estrangement, I altered my behaviour. I stopped talking about emotions, avoided all physical contact. I had become just a friend to him. And I think he likes that.'

Another brief pause.

'About my work I will tell you some other time, as a scientist you can even help me. But now you have no time, and I no inspiration. If, of course, it interests you at all.'

I thank her politely and assure her that I am interested, and this is sincere. I like this woman, I like being with her, listening to her.

'Tell me the truth, professor. What will happen to Sasha. I mean, if he gets well? Please believe me this interests me not merely on a personal level. We were in love, it is all gone, and there's nothing anyone can do about that. But he is an unusual man, I even go as far as to say that he is a sort of genius.'

'Now you have gone too far!'

'No, I haven't. I have spoken to mathematicians, they value his work very much. And his scope? Mechanics, medicine, psychology, sociology, art, he puts something new, something fresh into everything.'

'You mean, cybernetics?'

'Yes, of course, but it's more than that. I've got tired of that word. I think Sasha has outgrown it.'

'All right, let's not quarrel over words. Genius, talent or just a gifted man, is that so important? The important thing is that he can contribute a great deal to humanity.'

'Very well. But will he ever be well enough to do it?'

'I must tell you the truth, I don't really know. But I don't think he'll ever have his health back absolutely. Creeping rheumatism, secondary changes in the liver, they can't be cured by a new valve. Or can they? Our science is very approximate. I am not so sure about the valve itself either. Will it prove durable enough to last for many years? It might grow in and become covered with living tissue, but it also might start dissolving. It should hold up for three to five years. And during these years we shall look for new valves, for new methods. Everything in science is going slowly, but it is not static.'

And how would he have to live?'

'Under a glass jar. I think that the most important thing for him is to be able to work. His physical exertion must be very limited. It doesn't mean that he must stay in bed, but everything must be rigidly controlled. And, of course, his emotional life must be even more limited. Excitement is more dangerous for him than anything else. His very work involves a certain degree of emotional excitement, but that can't be curtailed. Otherwise he would become useless to himself.'

I am watching her attentively. Does she understand that I am speaking about her, that I am telling her that love is an unpermissible luxury for him? That it would destroy his capacity for work, and might even kill him? Like all ignorant people, Irina probably believes that a new valve will make him as good as new, and that their love may be resumed. And here I'm reading a death sentence to this hope. I can't help it. I have no right to give her any false encouragement. It is enough that I'm not giving her that letter. She may not believe what I say if she doesn't want to, and of course she doesn't. But she is brave.

'Very well. Everything is clear. And what would you advise me to do?'

Now I must think a little. Tell her simply, 'You must forget him'? No, this is too direct. To give her some hope? I don't want to. Even though, I think, that she has a definite chance. When his physical strength returns, love might flare up again. Not like before, of course, but still. All depends on her cleverness. She has enough beauty, and perhaps other assets, to achieve this. But if she is foolish, it's hopeless. She is very beautiful, but that does not prove intellect. I shall give her an honest answer:

'I don't believe that you should build your life round any hope for his love. If he loves you, nonetheless he is a sick man, and any emotional burden would shorten his life. Therefore, rely on yourself. From my own experience I know that there are two strong anchors, work and children. But even they don't provide automatic happiness. Work must be creative and in some degree your own. Forced labour is appalling. Happiness must be earned. It is the same thing with children. To get happiness out of them, you must bring them up. You must put into it not only love and care, but a great deal of effort. I understand this in the case of my granddaughter, Lenochka. Not my daughter, I was young then and stupid. If you have children and work that you love, everything else can be handled, infidelity, loss of love, material difficulties, career upheavals.'

'But I have no such anchors! I'm not sure about my work, and I have no child, even though I want one. What shall I do?'

'Fight. First of all, stick to your work. It seems to me that it's very interesting. You must think and think about it, and then new horizons will open up for you. I'm sorry I'm using such banal expressions, but I can't find others for the moment. And the child must be born.'

'How? I can't be with... with anyone else. I simply physically can't!'

Strange creatures, women. I could never understand this 'simply can't' of theirs.

'Then adopt one. But be sure that he is very young. I am sure that education is responsible for ninety per cent of our emotions. Yours or someone else's, you'd love him just as well.'

'It is easy to say. No, I shall wait a couple of years.'

'Of course, you still have time. But remember that it flies.'

'I must thank you for your advice, but actually I knew all this myself. But it's difficult for me to live. You understand, I've no backbone for life. I envy you. I envy even Sasha, despite his condition. I envy many women I know, simple women with husbands and children. You all know what you want, but I don't. I'm drifting.'

'Too bad for you, my dear. All those you envy have simply convinced themselves that what they have is what they want. If you don't follow their example and continue to doubt, you will end up by having a miserable old age. One must choose.'

'I will try.'

A pause. All is said. It is ten o'clock. The hour has gone, even five minutes more. Shall we be able to stop the haemorrhage? I don't know. Something inside tells me that we will. But I don't trust presentiments. They have fooled me so many times before.

Irina Nikolaevna, I must go to the operating theatre. You can stay here, if you want, or go back to the laboratory, and wait there.'

She takes the hint and rises. Her face and eyes are complicated. Grief, hurt... she probably feels that she's not understood and not sympathized with. Or maybe this is just my imagination? Maybe she's just tired? Well, just as she likes.

I walk with her to the laboratory door. She has the key. The hall is deserted. I return to my room and smoke a cigarette before going to Sasha.

   1A diminutive of Sergei, or Serge. Sasha refers here to his son.


Translated from the Russian by George St.George
© George St.George, 1966