Alexandria

-

A writer writes either to expose himself completely or to hide himself away.

The great ones can do both.

- Gregor Zhesnayav

He falls –

So many stories begin with a fall

'what's he doing – Glenn, what is he doing'

'will you just shut up for one second'

and hits the surface of the Mediterranean, running, running across the sea to safety, to Alexandria –

So many stories begin with a fall

'fucking STOP him'

he can see the Lighthouse up ahead, its beacon extinguished as it is currently day, brilliant day, the low waves sparkling as his feet dash across them and up –

Alice in Wonderla

'he's connecting to – I can't'

he Bible, The Satanic Vers

I'd had too much coffee that night; I couldn't sleep

- up onto the broad, glimmering stone steps of the harbour, up to the great city, past obelisks, past tall olive trees; his heart pounding; his breathing dry and fast –

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had too much coffee

'there's too many mirrors'

'just fucking shut it all down; don't give him any'

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had two cups of coffee

'just fucking shut it all down'

and there's the Library, the Great Library, with its stone and marble façade of imposing Egyptian pillars, unfurling into the shapes of palm leaves, its entrance a dark rectangle, impervious to the sun's glare, between statues of Thoth –

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had a cup of coffee, around 9 or 10

'fucking shut it all down'

I couldn't sleep that night but the coffee had been decaf; I was thinking of

he runs into the Library –

the Sickness

I was thinking of

So many stories begin with a fall

'shut it'

the Sickness

'all down'

thinking of

'shut it'

Go on

you, my darling

This is strong magic

'ALEX -'

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had too much coffee.

Live a little

- and collapses on the stone floor with a certain grace, like a dying ballerina. For a moment, he lies there, his back heaving, shivering, sweaty. He is naked. His body is that of a young man, mid-twenties, thin, unmuscular, pale. His hair is curly and black, the only remotely southern thing about him aside from his location. He rises shakily.

The Library is majestic. Its vaulted ceiling stretches over a hangar housing a labyrinth of bookshelves, all ten to fifteen yards high, monolithically carved from ebony and ivory, forming a vertically deconstructed chessboard. The centre, where the man stands, is bare, apart from a smooth stone table in two unjoined semicircles. The place is deserted, the air pure and pleasantly warm; no dust. Light falls in through evenly spaced shafts, in pale white beams. The ceiling becomes a Pantheon dome in the centre, above him, undecorated. The floor is marble tiles, red and white, wide enough to make him feel like a toddler, a sensation heightened by his nudity.

Steps approach. His body stiffens with fear, which dissipates when he sees the unthreatening figure that emerges from an aisle. It is a young man, his age, blond, equally pale, with a broad and sunburnt face. He wears a white toga, but resembles most of all a witless tourist, from somewhere up north. He freezes at the sight of the newcomer. Then smiles.

"Oh, hello. Who are you?"

"Alex." The naked man realizes now that he can remember this; his name; this and nothing more. "Alex Singer."

"Alex. How fitting. I'm Kaspar. Kaspar Freind."

"Are you German?"

Kaspar wrinkles his nose. "No. Austrian." He carries five books, all the same size and murky green colour, like tomes of an encyclopaedia. He sets them down on the table in the centre. "I'm here to study. I want to be a great historian. Like Herodotus." His accent flattens all of his vowels. He smiles, a broad and warm smile. "Why are you here, Alex?"

"I don't know." Alex says this neutrally, without confusion or fear.

"You don't know? Oh." Kaspar opens the top book in the stack and looks aimlessly at the first of the yellowed gossamer pages. He looks up at Alex. "You're out of breath. Have you been running?"

"Yes."

"Oh. You are sporty. You try to – stay in shape." He smiles and runs a little on the spot.

"Yes."

"So you can look good. And make it with the girls. Yes? Or the boys."

"Yes." Alex is tasting the word 'yes.'

"I used to try to make it with the girls. And the boys. But now -" Kaspar shrugs sadly. "Now I spend my time with books. No one wanted to be with Kaspar Freind. No one wanted to be Kaspar Freind's freund."

"Oh."

Kaspar sneezes. He lifts up his voluminous toga and blows his nose in it. "Sorry. I have a cold."

"It's okay." Alex stares blankly ahead of him. He murmurs: "The Sickness."

what is he doing Glenn

well then fucking STOP him

too many mirrors

Something rumbles, deep, in the building, in the world around them. Kaspar doesn't seem to hear it.

just fucking shut it all down

Alex hears the loud crashing of a wave; he pivots and sees that the Mediterranean is more agitated now, at the bottom of the harbour steps, through the gate, a mile away. The sky is still a brilliant blue out there.

"Come over here," says Kaspar. "Don't stand there like a – a statue. You make me nervous. Look, this is an interesting book. No, wait, first you must put on clothing." Kaspar walks past Alex to a corner beside the entrance. Alex turns and stares out at the Mediterranean. It is calm. The sun still shines, but doesn't seem able to enter the building through the gateway, only through the shafts higher up on the walls, in narrow beams. The floor directly in front of the gateway is cold and grey. But the pillars, obelisks and harbour steps outside are swathed in golden noon.

Kaspar grabs a toga from a folded stack in a wooden crate. "Here." He hands the garment to Alex, who puts it on fumblingly, unaccustomed. Kaspar stands back, too shy to help. Alex succeeds. The coarse fabric fits him perfectly.

"And here. You need this as well." Kaspar assists him now, tying a leathery rope around his waist, pushing the fabric up around his torso, raising it above his ankles.

"Thank you."

"You are welcome." Kaspar smiles again.

Alex frowns. "Who are you?"

"What do you mean by this, who I am? I am your new friend."

Character type #1.2

The Friend

Appears in: All stories

The Friend assists the Hero or Protagonist (Character type #1.0) in his journeys and battles, offering advice, support, affection and at times his skill in combat. The Friend often dies at the Climax by nobly sacrificing himself to help fulfill the Hero or Protagonist's mission or save the Hero or Protagonist's life. The Friend may also survive the Climax unharmed and continue his friendship with the Hero/Protagonist happily beyond the Ending. In some cases, the Friend is revealed to be the Enemy (Character type #1.1) or becomes the Lover (Character #2.5). The Lover is an expansion of the Friend, offering the same helpful attributes, but with the addition of the physical act of sex. A Friend who is not described as physically attractive will usually not become a Lover of the Hero/Protagonist. The Friend may then initiate a romance with another, minor character. The Friend often has a sense of humor or is unintentionally amusing.

"Come look at this book," Kaspar says, walking back to the stone table. Alex runs his hand over the pages.

"Is this papyrus? It's beautiful."

Kaspar murmurs something, but Alex is transfixed by the drawings of animals – ibises, turtles, crocodiles, baboons, and others that seem imagined, rudimentary or more intricately developed forms of existing beasts.

Book #242.203

A Beastiaerie of Nubian Creatures

Author: Asathon the Younger

Genre: Bestiary

Publisher: Unknown

Year: Unknown

This is a bestiary typical of its time, crafted less for scientific recording than for the enjoyment and thrill of commoners, and distributed – tellingly – at marketplaces rather than universities. Its creatures range from the acceptably genuine and objectively described ibis, the baboon, the long-legged scarlet pigeon, the crocodile, the fanged river shrew and the silver ankle-biter of the lower Nile, to the blatantly fictional naked condor, the Syrian lightning-walker, the wind-eating dagger swallow and the hedgehog, all purloined from popular imagination and tall tales. Asathon the Younger later went on to write largely incoherent, yet hugely popular erotic works such as 'The Blinding Beauty of Imda's Ankle' and 'Hathoreth in the Prison of the Thousand Insatiable Turkish Cocks', the latter having, to be clear, nothing to do with large flocks of hungry roosters from Turkey.

Kaspar closes the book, as though annoyed by the way his new companion's attention has drifted into its pages and away from him. "So, Alex. What books do you enjoy reading?"

Alex has to think. He thinks. He can't think of anything. "I don't know. I can't remember any books."

"Really? You're a virgin?" Kaspar is surprised and pleased.

"No – I know that I have read – something; I've read lots of books. I just – don't remember any of them."

"They can't have been very good then. Let's find you a book right now! One that will – what do you say; you English; you are English, aren't you? – one that will … rock your socks."

"The English don't say that."

"Well, whatever then!" says Kaspar cheerfully, his W's reduced to V's. "The point is; we must find you a book. You are in the greatest library the world has ever known; we must take advantage of that! We must open up the Index."

He crouches down and takes some sand from the tiles, holding it between his fingertips like a delicate spice. He stands and, with a swing of his arm that makes Alex flinch, throws the sand down into the gap between the two semicircles of stone that form the table. Something bursts up – at first Alex thinks it is fire – but no; it is a stabile digital image, a Net portal – a Screen. Alex remembers the Net now.

The Screen is dark green and multi-layered, an inviting interface. There is a search bar. It is a catalogue, then.

"This is the Index," says Kaspar, as Alex takes a few steps around it. The screen rotates in the air above, several metres wide and high, turning to face him in perfect synchronization. Presumably it faces Kaspar perfectly as well in his eyes, from where he stands.

"What shall we ask it to find for us?" he says. "Do you remember any … favourite authors of yours or …?"

Alex shakes his head slowly. "No."

"Any favourite subjects? Do you want fact or fiction? Poetry?"

"I don't know."

"You don't remember … anything?"

He shakes his head again.

"What has happened to you? You have … what is the word -"

"Amnesia."

"Yes." Kaspar wrinkles his big, sunburnt nose. "Ah! Let us – let us find a book on that. Index! Find: Amnesia."

The Screen loads a long list of results, weaving from left to right like a dark green cobweb being spun in time lapse. Book # 028.129 – Short-Term Amnesia: Causes and Solutions – by Dr. Janet Sellars, ph.D. – Book #920.319 – Amnesia: A Jungian approach – by Richard Bloch-Eismann – Book #932.021 – Living with Chronic Short-Term Amnesia: A Guide for Friends and Relatives – by Dr. Clive Suzman – Book #039.111 – Amnesia: A novel – by Helen Rippon –

"What's that one?" says Alex, pointing at a title that doesn't contain the word Amnesia.

Book #664.200 – The Woman from the Snow – by Gregor Zhesnayav (translated from Russian by Judith Zimmerman. With a preface by Derek Edelstein, ph.D., professor of Russian literature at Oxford University.)

Book #664.200

The Woman from the Snow

Author: Gregor Zhesnayav

Genre: Fiction – Drama/Mystery

Publisher: Ibis Classical Fiction

Year: 1972 (originally printed 1869)

This ambiguous and uncanny Zhesnayav novel, long overlooked by puritan analysts of Russian literature due to its taboo subject matter, tells a dense and engrossing story of what happens when a woman found near dead in the snow is taken into a Siberian monastery and cared for by 12 monks, each with their own psychological problems and variously tense relations to the others. As the Siberian winter grows ever more intensely cold, the atmosphere in the isolated monastery becomes charged both with sexual and spiritual hysteria, as some monks yearn physically for the woman, while others see her as a miraculous being with Messianic properties, and still others as a dangerous demon.

The woman herself remains an oblique figure, claiming to be recuperating from total amnesia. Throughout the novel, her behaviour shifts seemingly at random; towards some of the monks she is tender and motherly, towards others, taunting and flirtatious. Zhesnayav hints that she may indeed be a supernatural being, as when she seems to cause brother Sapranovich's azaelas and lilies to flourish out of season in the courtyard, or when she speaks to Abbot Mendelvok of his abusive father with no possible way of having learned of this beforehand. But then, one could view these incidents as hallucinations, filtered through the monks' disturbed points of view.

Much has been made of the significance of the number of monks – 12, like the disciples, which leaves the role of the woman quite clear – and the similarities to the famous case of nun hysteria and so-called demonic possession in Loudon, France in the 17th century (as immortalized in Penderecki's seldom performed opera Die Teufel von Loudon and, more remotely, in the Powell and Pressburger film Black Narcissus), but among the most astute observations are those of professor Derek Edelstein in his preface on the influence of ancient Russian folklore and the gender politics of Zhesnayav's time.

The novel was shunned upon its original publication in 1869, no doubt due to its shocking grand finale, when the monks descend into complete madness and self-destruction, and of course the hints of a homosexual liaison between brother Lidianov and brother Sapranovich. Fortunately, in this new annotated edition from Ibis Classical Fiction, Zhesnayav's brilliantly nuanced work can be appreciated once more by students of Russian literature and lovers of modernist fiction alike.

Keywords: woman snow monastery siberia amnesia sexuality mystery monks religion evil russian classical chekhov dostoievskij kafka walser tolstoy derek edelstein

"I've read this book. I remember reading this book." Alex smiles, grins in pure joy at having remembered something. "This exact book – this version, with this preface -"

"Oh, good for you!" Kaspar claps his hands earnestly like a child; the sound echoes in the cathedralic structure.

"I want it. I want to read it, now. Maybe I'll remember more."

"Index!" Kaspar says. "Take us to: 664.200. The Woman from the Snow."

A silvery limb shoots out from the Screen, separating from it viscuously and becoming a dollop of plasma, which gleams, stronger and brighter until it is simply an orb of white light, travelling. A guiding star. It floats like a shy ghost down an aisle between the vast bookshelves, eastward – as they follow it, Kaspar tells Alex: "This is fiction, by the way. The whole eastern half of the building. Back on the other side -" He points back with a thumb. "- is factual literature. Fiction, east. Fact, west."

"Where's the poetry? You said there was poetry."

"Oh, in fiction. Poetry is fiction."

"Huh."

They turn corners, left, right, left, left; Alex stops keeping track. The light comes to rest, hovering at the seventh shelf up on one of the pitchblack ebony structures. Once Alex and Kaspar have stopped below, the light disappears, its purpose fulfilled.

"We can't reach that," says Alex flatly.

Kaspar is already walking farther down the aisle, grabbing a ladder. He pulls it with surprising ease to where Alex stands. He climbs up and scans the shelf. "Woman from Mars … Woman from the Other Side of the Street … Woman from Outer Space … God, so many women!"

Alex realizes dimly that the books here are ordered by title, not the surname of the author. The books are not a function of the author. The authors belong to the books. Life belongs to art.

"Here we go." Kaspar pulls out a thin, battered paperback; looks like a Penguin edition. Alex recognizes it. Kaspar climbs down and hands it to him.

Alex opens it and flicks past the preface.

"Oh, are you going in right now?" Kaspar sounds surprised.

Alex frowns. "Going in?"

He is on the first page

and

Please wait

Rendering

Siberian tundra … 93%

This is strong magic

Snow … 45% … 92% … 99

Monastery … 64% … 100

Woman 100%

Please choose a point of identification.

Abbot Mendelvok Brother Sapranovich Brother Lidianov

Brother Gregodon Brother Eisenstein Brother Tronogovskij

Brother Tolvonech Brother Zacvílec Brother Tarovskij

Brother Tulkin Brother Golgonov Brother Figuravskij

The woman

You have selected: Brother Sapranovich.

THE WOMAN IN THE SNOW

Translated from the Russian by Judith Zimmerman

CHAPTER I

It was unusually cold that day, even for the first of November on the great north-eastern tundras of Siberia, when Brother Gregodon,

Character type #5.7

The Jolly Glutton

Appears in: Comedies, farce, horror, adventure, romance

The Jolly Glutton is fat and enjoys eating. He is therefore vaguely pitiful, sometimes comical, and almost never the Hero/Protagonist.

out of breath and lugging along his voluminous belly like a cumbersome suitcase, climbed up the ladder to the belfry. At the top, he paused, clutching his right arm as though fearing, briefly, a heart attack. He then proceeded briskly, stumbling over his unnecessarily long robe but regaining his balance. He grabbed the rope in the centre and pulled with great strength. The bell tolled.

It was 6 o'clock on a Monday morning, time for everyone to arise, time for brothers Sapranovich, Lidianov and Eisenstein to sweep the halls, time for Trogonovskij, Tolvonech and Zacviléc to prepare breakfast, time for Tarovskij, Tulkin and Figuravskij to clean the chapel and time for Abbot Mendelvok to sit calmly in his chamber and have one last glance at his sermon for today, before mounting the pulpit at 9.

Gregodon was to join the group in the kitchen, for he knew better than anyone how to spice the oatmeal just so, being a man of nigh sinful appetite (and thirst, for slivovits (1)), but not indiscrimate; in fact quite the gourmet. Before descending, however, he walked up to one of the four shutterless windows of the belfry. It had been snowing eight days now. The wind penetrated the thin, creaking pane and chilled him from head to toe. He took a deep breath and let it out in a small cloud that fogged the glass. In this mist, he doodled something shapeless. He peered down at the white field between the southern façade of the monastery, the foothills of the great north-eastern mountains and the flat horizon, erased by the blizzard, that constituted their hypothenuse.

Brother Golgonov was down there,

Character type #022.39

The Innocent Man-Child

Appears in: Comedies, drama, romance, tragedies, spiritual fables

The Innocent Man-Child is naïve and infantile, but in a pure and angelic way; he often sees a truth that the more mature, cynical characters cannot. The Innocent Man-Child is occasionally the Hero/Protagonist and almost always meant to be sympathetic.

seeing to the oxen in their pen, having risen before the bell as usual. Gregodon looked down upon him with a vague, affectionate smile. At 29 years of age, Golgonov was one of the youngest in the monastery – aside from 23-year-old brother Lidianov – and also one of the stupidest, yet perhaps the most kind-hearted. In fact, he reminded Gregodon of an ox with his lumbering gait down there, wrapped in his thick black robes, plowing through the knee-deep snow, stroking and talking cheerfully to the animals. Poor Golgonov loved the oxen – he hated it when they had to slaugher one, and they would have to slaughter several soon, for they had little to eat and a long time to go till the next delivery of goods from the village.

Gregodon frowned as his gaze was drawn by something else, farther out in the field, beyond the pen. A dark shape lay embedded in the snow. Golgonov seemed to see it in the same instant, or hear something, for he looked up and started rushing towards the prostrate figure. Gregodon turned and climbed hurriedly down the ladder, then lifted his robe to descend the spiral stairway of the bell tower. He rushed down the corridor to the main entrance, where Lidianov, Sapranovich

that's me, Alex realizes; that is me; I am here; I can feel the broom in my hands; I can see Gregodon brushing past me

and Eisenstein were sweeping the floor. They looked up with surprise at his state of exertion.

"Outside -" Gregodon gasped. "There is – someone – in the snow."

"Someone in the snow?" Lidianov repeated with puzzlement on his young face, which was innocent and smooth as a cherub's.

Eisenstein stroked his long, jutting beard. "A person? Here? Surely you have dreamt."

Ignoring questions and protests alike, Gregodon raised the heavy mahogany bolt and rammed the doors open with the force of his bulbous body. The blizzard, which had been relatively mild only moments before, whipped into the hall and nearly literally pushed the men back. But out there, they could see Golgonov's figure receding, as he ventured out on the tundra.

"Golgonov!" Lidianov cried out; he and Gregodon rushed out into the biting, snapping cold to retrieve their friend. They drew their cowls up over their bowed heads, struggling against the hissing winds that surrounded them like invisible snakes, freezing the blood and the marrow, drowning shouts. Lidianov's strong, young legs carried him faster, and he outran the older, fatter monk. He had soon reached Golgonov, who was kneeling by the figure in the snow.

"Help me," Golgonov said, and together, they turned the figure over, as she – for it was a woman – had been lying face down.

Character type #899.9

The Mysterious Stranger

Appears in: Horror, thriller, western, spiritual fables, tragedies, drama

The Mysterious Stranger is a force from outside that enters a stagnated environment and causes disruption and change, of an either positive or destructive nature (sometimes both). Examples of Mysterious Strangers include Clint Eastwood's character in the film High Plains Drifter, Cousin Lymon in Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café, Death in Poe's Mask of the Red Death, the wife in Stanisław Lem's Solaris or Terence Stamp's character in the film Teorema. The Mysterious Stranger often has no name.

And her face had absorbed the colour of the snow. It was almost hard to distinguish her features – the contours were blurred, like furniture in a room at night. Here, a dignified line between thin lips, smiling? – and there, pinched nostrils, hollow cheeks – and there, closed eyes, with beautiful, dark lashes. She was in her thirties, perhaps twenties. Her arms were at her sides, hands open as if to receive. She wore a black fur coat and hat – was it from a wolf? A bear? Hard to tell – and thick boots.

"She looks like my mother," said Golgonov, tonelessly.

"Is she alive?" said Gregodon, exhausted, as he reached them.

Lidianov took her pulse under the jaw. "Yes."

"What?" said Gregodon; the wind had swallowed Lidianov's reply.

"Yes! She's alive!"

"Well, by the saints, let's bring her inside!"

They hoisted her up like a coffin; her body was stiff and, perhaps therefore, easy to handle. Gregodon and Lidianov had her by the upper arms; Golgonov forged ahead with her ankles over his shoulders. Sapranovich and Eisenstein were running out to join them, belatedly,

I had to put my boots on, Alex protests in his mind; why doesn't it mention that I was putting my boots on

and surround them with questions on the last stretch back, most of them half swallowed by the winds: "- at is it? Is it a pers -" "- he dead?" "Is it a wo – s a woman, isn't -"

In the hall, they set her down on the cold stone floor. Sapranovich and Eisenstein closed and bolted the gate.

my God, Alex gasps, it feels like I've done that a million times before

"Lidianov, bring us some slivovits," says said Alex Sapranovich, and the younger monk obeyed, running off to the cellar.

"There is something strange about this," said Eisenstein, with dark suspicion. They were all kneeling around the woman now, Gregodon and Golgonov rubbing her legs to warm them.

"Yes, it is strange," said Alex Sapranovich, with furrowed brow, smoothing the woman's dark, black hair back from her broad, pale forehead. "Why would anyone venture out to this part of the tundra alone? Why a woman?"

"There is something foul about this," said Eisenstein. "I think it is a trap."

"A trap? How can a person be a trap?" Sapranovich went on, gazing at Eisenstein with a warning look, then down at the woman with compassion. "This woman was dying. She was in need. And we saved her. We are merciful, brother Eisenstein. We are not suspicious and dark-hearted, like commoners in the alleyway markets of Moscow."

"I am merely suggesting that –" Eisenstein paused, then began afresh. "Listen to me, brothers – I have heard of gangs of robbers that make women pretend to be – lost, or dying, starving – so that they may be welcomed in houses of good standing, and taken care of – and then, at night, they open the doors and let in their filthy barbarian friends -"

"Ha! Where have you picked up this nonsense?" said Sapranovich. "From Andrzej?"

Andrzej is the delivery man from the village; Alex knows this; this is a thing he knows.

"No one would rob a monastery," said Gregodon, shaking his head, rubbing the woman's left shin. "No one would try to fool monks like that."

"She's beautiful," said Golgonov, stating what they had all been thinking, and thereby silencing them.

Lidianov came running back. "I brought the slivovits," he said, struggling to uncork the bottle. He was young, and handsome, but also frail and weak. With a smile, Sapranovich took the bottle from him and opened it.

"What is this?" Abbot Mendelvok's authoritative voice boomed down the hall, as if summoned by the pop of the wine cork. "Let me see the woman. Let me see her." He approached, in his tailored black cotton robe and cylindrical zlombrek hat.

I don't like him, Alex muses as he Sapranovich rises rose to his feet and took a step back, as did the others. Mendelvok kneeled at the woman's head and contemplated her face with cold, grey eyes. He stroked his jutting, dark grey beard. "Yes -" He nodded slowly. "Yes, she has been – almost fatally exposed to the cold. But why?" He looked up at the brothers, as if expecting them to have the answer. "We must care for her. Yes." He rose briskly. "Take her to the infirmary in the west wing. She will rest there."

Others had come running to join them while Mendelvok examined the woman - Trogonovskij, Tolvonech and Zacvílec from the kitchen, Tarovskij, Tulkin and Figuravskij from the chapel. They were all here now, all 12 brothers, staring down at the woman; for once they did not look upon Mendelvok while he spoke.

The woman coughed, the first sound she had made.

Her eyes fluttered open. They were pale blue.

She said, weakly: "Where am I?"

"You are in a monastery on the north-eastern Siberian tundra," said Mendelvok, unsmiling. "We are 12 brothers here, all of us reasonably well-versed in medicines and cures for an ailing constitution. We will let you stay here until you have rested and recuperated fully. May I ask – why we found you lying in the snow outside of our monastery?"

The woman's eyes closed slowly. "I … I don't know." And she was gone again.

And so, all 12 brothers carried or accompanied the limp body of the woman up the spiral stairway, down the third floor corridor to the infirmary, with a silent reverence. They laid her in the bed. Sapranovich, still holding the bottle of slivovits, set it on the adjacent table. Mendelvok drew the curtains aside. "She needs light," he said tersely, as if about a plant. "And not too many people around her. Brother Trogonovskij, brother Tolvonech, you can stay with her for now."

"Abbot Mendelvok?" said Lidianov.

"Yes?"

"The service … shouldn't we have begun now?"

"Oh yes. It must be past 9." Mendelvok frowned, clearly irritated. "Yes. The service – the service is postponed until 12. Lunch will be at 2 today. In any case, I assume you haven't finished cleaning the chapel, brother Tarovskij, brother Tulkin, brother Figuravskij. See to that. And – let me know if there are any developments with her." He left the room.

Mendelvok had asked only Trogonovskij and Tolvonech to stay with the woman, but all 11 monks now lingered in the infirmary, even though they all had unfinished morning duties to attend to.

Lidianov smiled. "This is like the fairy tale. The seven dwarves and Marble-White Skinned Girl (2)."

Sapranovich smiled back, putting a hand briefly on his shoulder. "You are sweet. It is, isn't it?"

"If so, she brings trouble," said Eisenstein darkly.

She reminds me of someone, Alex muses, gazing at that beautiful, sleeping face –

"She reminds me of someone," said Sapranovich.

"Me too," said Golgonov.

"And me," said Trogonovskij.

"I think she reminds us all of someone," said Eisenstein. "Of the same someone."

"Who?" said Lidianov.

"Woman." Eisenstein walked with slow steps out of the room, muttering: "Everything was good until woman came along, wasn't it?"

So many stories begin with a fall

She reminds me of someone, Alex muses

They brought her pomegranate juice from the high shelves of the storage chamber, even though pomegranate juice was a luxury, reserved for the Abbot. "I don't care," said Gregodon. "We're going to care for her, and we're going to care for her properly. There is nothing better for a weakened constitution than the juice of the pomegranate."

The woman farted.

The brothers were silent for a moment. Tarovskij, Tulkin and Figuravskij had left to clean the chapel, Trogonovskij and Tolvonech to have breakfast. Only Gregodon, Golgonov, Sapranovich and Lidianov had been there to hear the inappropriate sound. The woman's eyes were still closed, and so the fart could not have been a deliberate breach of decorum. A smile seemed to play upon her lips, as if she were having a pleasant dream.

Lidianov smiled cautiously. "None of us are ever fully in control of our bodies, I suppose."

"No – no, I suppose not," said Gregodon, contemplating the woman with a furrowed brow.

"Ugh, it smells!" Golgonov exclaimed. The stench had indeed reached them, even through the thick duvet.

Sapranovich gave a slight laugh. "Come, let us join the others for breakfast."

But then he

lingers

She reminds me of

someone," said Sapranovich. "She reminds me of my wife."

stop

this isn't in the book

My wife

"Charlotte – I even – I even recognized her voice when she spoke -"

'what's he doing – Glenn, what is he doing'

"I even recognized her voice"

'well then fucking STOP him'

her voice

'just fucking shut it all down shut it all down

Her voice again, now, saying something new:

'he's remembering – Glenn, there's activity there'

'fuck – we can get him now -'

whooping with excitement like a child

'we've GOT him now – fuck, Charlotte, we're cooking with GAS now -'

The woman in the bed dissolves, melting away like snow; then the bed goes; then the other monks; then the ceiling

but something is reaching down from the sky above, the darkened, agitated sky, like the Mediterranean in a tempest

Go on

Hooks

Hooks are flying down, hooks on long lines, a fisherman's hooks

Live a little

a fisherman of souls

and Alex jumps aside to dodge them, running, but they're fast, they're coming, more and more of them, everywhere, like rain, hooks everywhere; they want to pull him up

the room dissolves, and he is falling through the monastery which now seems small and fragile like a dollhouse, unstable, unreal

the snow below is melting; the tundra is melting; the landscape is unmade

leaving nothing but

emptiness

and hooks

hooks

He gasps

and he has awoken; he is back in the Library, with his friend Kaspar Freind. They are sitting opposite each other in the aisle, against the bookshelves. The book – The Woman in the Snow – lies open on page 18 in Alex's lap. He closes it. The Library is still silent as a sunken cathedral.

"What happened to you in the end there?" Kaspar asks, smiling, but puzzled. "You started breaking the fiction. Talking about Charlotte – that's not in the book, is it? That's not a Russian name."

"Did you see the hooks?"

"What?"

"The hooks. Did you see all the hooks coming down?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Kaspar shrugs. "I'm sorry, my friend, but -"

"It's okay." Alex stands, slowly. He starts climbing the ladder to put the book back.

"Don't do that," says Kaspar, saddened. "Don't put it back. Don't you want to read the rest of it?"

Alex pauses halfway up, staring down at his strange Austrian companion. "Sure. Yes. Yes, I do want to read the rest of it. Just not right now."

"Well, just keep it then. Do you wanna go back to the Index?"

"Okay."

They walk through the labyrinth. Kaspar leads the way, presumably taking them back to the centre between fact and fiction. Alex has no idea where they are.

"You were Sapranovich," says Kaspar, walking a few paces ahead, turning corners confidently.

"Yes. Who were you? I thought I could see you in brother Lidianov."

"Oh no, I was Trogonovskij. I only had one line of dialogue. I said 'And me.' God, so boring. I hate when you accidentally choose a character who doesn't do or say or sense a lot."

They step back out in the wide, empty expanse of the centre. The Index still hovers above the stone table in the middle. Kaspar walks up to it. "I want to read about the author of that book. Index! Find: Gregor Zhesnayav."

Author Profile #029.193

Zhesnayav, Gregor

Sex: Male

18/08/1822-21/12/1889

Often fumblingly compared by analysts to Chekhov, Kafka and Dostojevskij, Zhesnayav is however, undeniably, in a maddeningly ambiguous and surrealist league of his own, his name indelibly inscribed in the annals of 19th century Russian literature with such uncompromisingly modernist works as The Woman from the Snow (1869) and If She Had Looked Back (1885). His works often revolve around themes of sexual repression, religious doubt, the sublimity and cruelty of nature and the oblique menace of the supernatural.

Born in 1822 in Saint Petersburg to upper middle class parents Igor and Anastasija Ivanovka, the former being a prosperous farmer, Zhesnayav seemed destined to join the manufacturing interest of the city, but his literary genius emerged from an astonishingly early age when he, at the age of 18, completed The Glacier's Progress (1840), his acerbic portrait of the bourgeouisie in which he feared that he would stagnate indefinitely.

The Glacier's Progress failed to find publication during Zhesnayav's lifetime, and, bitterly, without telling anyone, he moved to Moscow in 1843, where he worked first as a snow shoveller, then a journalist for the cheap gossip rag Zyblesni-vak!, claiming in his diary that the former job 'made more of a positive difference in society, both politically and aesthetically.'

We have no clear trace of Zhesnayav's activies until the publication of The Woman in the Snow in 1869. The Woman was universally shunned; critics claimed it to be simultaneously 'repugnant' and 'strangely bland.' In 1872, Zhesnayav married Olga Vidranovitj, the daughter of a respected manufacturer of porcelain figures, and so he began to move in the more aristocratic circles of Moscow, where he remained, however, a cold and unresponsive figure, choosing to simply contemplate the party guests from a quiet corner or a comfortable baroque chaiselongue.

Strangely, Olga Vidranovitj is claimed to have been 'profoundly happy' in her marriage. Perhaps Zhesnayav was genuinely in love with her and would only show this in private, or perhaps Vidranovitj was delusional. Certainly, Zhesnayav's works seem to betray a coldness and a cynicism in the relations between men and women that borders on misoginy, or at least asexuality. Rumours arose in his lifetime that he was a 'degenerate of the Greek sort', seeking his pleasures elsewhere, but these seem to be founded in spite rather than truth. Although homosexuality is present in Zhesnayav's works at times, and described with a startlingly mature acceptance, Zhesnayav himself had always strictly pursued relations with the opposite sex. Other rumours claimed that he was involved in secret cultic worship of the mysterious pagan deity known as Baphomet. Such worship is said to have flourished in Moscow's upper classes at the time.

In 1874, Vidranovitj gave birth to a daughter, Elena, of whom we have no further record. Olga Vidranovitj died in 1884 of tuberculosis. Zhesnayav soon followed, of the same cause, in 1889, but not before achieving a small success with the publication of If She Had Looked Back (1885), a melodrama revolving around adultery, which towards the end assumes surreal and apocalyptic overtones, referencing the figure of Baphomet.

Authors similar to: Zhesnayav, Gregor

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"You know, the thing about Alexandria is, it burns," Alex says, feeling annoyed and not sure why, as Kaspar reads the Screen. He corrects his tense: "It burned. Alexandria burned down. It was too good to last."

"What do you mean?" Kaspar stares at him with a half-smile, lips trembling. He stretches out his arms to indicate the glory around them, his toga whispering. "It's here, Alex – it's right here. Don't say silly things."

"I know. I'm sorry." Alex frowns. Where had those remarks come from? He walks across the marble floor, gazing up at the high shelves of the fiction department, then tilting his head to take in the Pantheon above. "My dukedom …"

"What?"

"Knowing I lov'd my books – he furnished me with – something something."

"Is that the Bard?"

"Yes, I think so." Alex smiles at Kaspar, surprised and amused by his use of the English term, in his Austrian accent.

"The Tempest."

Book #329.200

The Tempest

Author: William Shakespeare

Genre: Play

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 1992 (originally printed: Unknown)

Widely presumed to be Shakespeare's final work, The Tempest seems to represent a maestro laying his powerful magic aside and preparing himself to depart from this world, after one last exertion to undo its wrongs and restore Elizabethean harmony. However, the elegiac melancholy remains in the background, and the play remains a comedy laden with supernatural elements, as seen before in A Midsummer Night's Dream, albeit here with somewhat more dramatic conflict and grave injustice involved. Duke Prospero, the rightful ruler of Milan, has been exiled to a magical island, where he resides with his daughter Miranda, his foul slave-troll Caliban, his obedient spirit of the air, Ariel, and a myriad of other sprites. Summoning up a tempest, he causes his old enemies' ship to wreck, leaving them stranded on the island. Having put them through various magical ordeals and torments, Prospero finally meets with his enemies in a scene of reconciliation, penitence and forgiveness. Miranda is married to the young prince Ferdinand, and their wedding is attended by the deities Juno, Ceres and Isis, who give their blessings. Finally, Prospero decides to lay down his magic and set Ariel free, as his labour is done.

"Exiled …" Alex tastes the word. "Exiled by his enemies."

This is strong magic

just fucking shut it all down; don't give him any exits

we can get him out now – fuck – we've GOT him Charlotte

"Huh?" says Kaspar.

"Exile … I think I am in exile."

"What do you mean? Why are you being so strange, Alex?"

"Or on holiday. Yes, I'm on holiday. A much needed holiday.

a writer's holiday

who had said that? Virginia Woolf, about Orlando

Book #392.921

In Milan … That's where I was." He snaps his fingers, then holds his knuckles to his mouth, wide-eyed, distant. "I was in Milan. At a convention. A doctors' convention."

Milan

Milano

Espresso

I'd had too much coffee that night; I couldn't sleep

thinking about

the Sickness.

Alex lay on the double bed, being massaged by the mechanism inside. He switched it off; it wasn't very good, and a rather tacky touch for a four-star hotel like the Europa. He reached out to take a sip from his espresso (he'd thrown that in when Charlotte had called to order pomegranate ice cream)

nothing better than the juice of the pomegranate

and straightened up against the too many, too bulky pillows. He was watching CNN. It was the Sickness; always the Sickness these days. A pretty, young woman was reporting, with brown jaw-length hair that reminded him of his first girlfriend.

… confirmed that the Sickness has reached Taiwan, making Antarctica the only region from which we have yet to receive any reports of similar infant deaths. GLIC, Gilbert-Reich's Latent Intravenous Collapse Syndrome, popularly known as the Sickness, first emerged six months ago when a wave of infant deaths was noted in several European countries, and shortly after in the US. Infants with GLIC Syndrome die from sudden internal bleeding approximately one week after birth. Joining us now to share his opinion on this epidemic is doctor Paul Coolidge –

"Oh, that fucking hack." Alex switched off the incessant stream of already digested information. He closed his eyes. A breeze reached him through the billowing linen curtains at the balcony. Italian air. The air was so pure here, even in this city of industry.

He opened his eyes, and as if on cue, Charlotte stepped out of the shower.

Character type #883.282

The Unfaithful Wife

Appears in: Drama, tragedies

The Unfaithful Wife usually has good reason to be unfaithful – she is trapped in a loveless marriage to an oblivious Foolish Yet Good-Hearted Husband (Character type #992.394) or a Cold and Cruel Husband (Character type #927.593). She is usually highly attractive; her husband is not. The Unfaithful Wife's affair rekindles her long suppressed passion and sexuality, but is inevitably discovered by her husband and/or the community around them, leading to a tragic ending in which someone is murdered or commits suicide. Examples include Madame Bovary by Flaubert and Anna Karenina by Dostojevskij. In tales featuring the Unfaithful Wife, the reader's sympathy must lie with either the Wife or the husband, rarely both. Ulysses by James Joyce is an exception to all of these rules.

He saw her through the doorway beside the television, drying herself off briskly, as if hating the delicate beauty of her slim, healthy body, blatantly healthier and younger than his, this wrinkled, 45-year-old

His body is that of a young man, mid-twenties, thin, unmuscular, pale

, sunburnt English corpus with a tiny prick and a gut developing.

lugging along his voluminous belly like a cumbersome suitcase

. She put on the white hotel bathrobe and emerged to grab her pomegranate ice cream from the tray at the door.

"You're a vision," he said with a lazy smile.

She smiled back. "Really."

"You look like –" He put on an exaggerated Italian accent that never amused her. "Monica Vitti. What was that film where she had brown hair?"

"The Red Desert."

"That's the one." He tapped the emptiness on the bed to his left with one hand, finishing his espresso. "Don't just stand there. Come and join me in my exquisite lethargy."

She didn't smile or respond. She slipped off her bathrobe, only to don a purple summer dress instead; he moaned. She moved to the balcony with her ice cream, gone beyond the white curtains. She left him in the company of a fly, buzzing in circles above his belly, describing the shape of it.

A knock at the door. Alex sighed. "Just a minute." He rose to don his briefs and khakis, but the unlocked door opened before his privates were stowed away. "Jesus Christ, Umberto!"

"Good afternoon, Mr Singer." The Italian doctor sauntered in, actually sauntered in, followed by Dr Glenn Collins and – oh God – his young assistant, Alison Polley.

Alex buttoned his trousers. Luckily, Alison's eyes had been on her laptop as she typed away, carrying it reverentially as if on her way to sacrifice it to a god. She was quietly beautiful – black, thick-rimmed glasses, shoulder-length blonde hair, always dressed in unrevealing blouses and knee-length skirts, grey or maroon.

"Christ, you just knock and then waltz in?" Alex buttoned his rumpled white shirt, as eager to hide his belly as he'd been to hide his prick. "This is like living with my parents again. Jesus Christ."

"You're beginning to sound religious, Mr Singer," said Umberto, flopping down in a chair.

"What?"

"All this Jesus Christ business."

"Well – this is what you reduce me to." He finished buttoning his shirt, then donned his blazer for good measure, despite the heat. "First the affront to my privacy, then a – cheap invocation of some – belief drilled into me long ago by – yes, by my parents; you continue to remind me of my parents. Religion and no privacy. I am becoming an American."

Glenn laughed, the pesky New Yorker. "I'm glad we've caught you in a good mood," he said, glancing towards the balcony. "Is Charlotte here?"

"No. She's gone to Saudi Arabia, where at least people have boundaries." Alex opened the minibar and poured himself a whisky on the rocks. Why the fuck not? Live a little.

"Skipped across the sea,

running across the Mediterranean

wrapped herself up in - deliciously oppressive black cloth. Were you hoping to catch a glimpse of her au naturel? Or was I the main attraction?" He drank big gulps of the whisky.

"We were thinking of going to the opera tonight," said Umberto. "To see Aida."

"Ah, Verrrdi! Guiseppe Verrrdi! The gloria of Italia."

"Never mind him," said Charlotte, stepping in from the balcony. "I'd love to see Aida."

Glenn smiled at her, warmly

the cunt

when had he last fucked her at that point? A few hours before, when Alex was at the swimming pool? Last night, when Alex had been at the facilities alone for hours, comparing the strain of the Sickness to other infant illnesses?

and said: "It's supposed to be a stellar cast – and a historical staging -"

"Yes, I've seen what it says on the posters as well," said Alex.

"Oh, a proper traditional staging always lures me in," said Charlotte. "I can't stand this pseudo-clever postmodern nonsense. Like this awful performance of Die Niebelungen in Berlin last year …"

"My wife doesn't realize that it's pseudo-clever to use words like 'pseudo-clever'," said Alex, ignored by his wife and the invaders of his room.

exiled by his enemies

Alexandria burned

hooks

pseudo-clever to use words like 'pseudo-clever',"

he said and watched Charlotte eat the last spoonful of pomegranate ice cream

nothing better than

as she looked at Glenn, remembering having something else in her mouth and licking it, swallowing it, looking at him pornographically, blatantly, open and straightforward, like an American, telling him that she remembered it and wanted to do it again, soon, as soon as her 45-year-old paunchy husband was elsewhere

and who could blame her; Glenn was 30-something and fit; Glenn wasn't an arsehole; well, not to her –

"Would anyone like to go for a walk with me?" said Charlotte. "I need to find a bookstore with books in English."

"Of course; I can take you to a good place," said Umberto.

"Would anyone like to do some research with me?" said Alex. "You know, research. On the Sickness. Would anyone like to go to the facilities tonight and compare the strain to other vira and maybe try to narrow down -"

"Alex, Alex - calm down," said Glenn. "We can't all be at the facilities all the time. There are plenty of our colleagues there right now, doing -"

"Alison! Alison, tell me something." Alex walked up to the woman, who stood beside the still open door to the hallway, gazing at her laptop, as if shy, respectful, reluctant to have entered the room at all. She hadn't winced when he shouted her name. She looked up at him calmly. "Tell me – because I'm not sure about this now, since my colleagues seem to think they're on holiday"

a much-needed holiday

in exile

"going to the opera and having a good time – could you just tell me; is this a convention? Are we at a convention? To do research on the Sickness?"

Alison gave a vague smile and was perhaps about to say yes, when Alex regretted using her like this, like some obnoxious teacher. "I'm sorry – I'm sorry; I just – I just think that my colleagues are insane," he told her confidentially, glancing at Glenn, Umberto and Charlotte as though they couldn't hear him at that moment. "I think they're insane not to be more worried. Because the Sickness – the Sickness is going to stop everything, isn't it? Humanity is going to cease to procreate – to … humanity is going to end. We're fucked. We're all fucked. Aren't we?" He looked at her, pleadingly now.

Alison's vague smile did not waver. She looked genuine, loving, truthful, like a Cordelia. But he was not Lear; he was not feeling fatherly towards her. Oh no, far from it.

"It seems likely that we are, Mr Singer," she said quietly, unheard by the others.

"Alex – we're going to go now," said Glenn, tired. "You can come to the opera tonight if you want. We've got tickets for all of us. Charlotte, are you coming?"

"Yes." She was already moving with them, out the door.

Alison followed.

The room dissolved; the hotel dissolved; the afternoon dissolved

Where did you go

Milan dissolved; Italy dissolved, and he was in

Where did you go

Alexandria.

"Where did you go?" Kaspar asks, sitting on his haunches before him. Alex raises his head slowly, his back rigid against the bookshelf. His body is young once more, young and thin and smooth, swathed in the toga.

"I was … somewhere. Remembering something. No, never mind. I took a nap. I was dreaming."

He looks up at the floating Screen. "I want to read another book. But I don't know what."

"We can ask it to find us something random."

"Oh really? Good."

"Index! Find: Random."

1. Plum wine, often brewed by monks in monasteries with adjoining orchards.

2. The name under which Snow-White is known in Russian folklore (Strapilovitz-Biel Trutska).