Posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan
Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, just a few days after I was operated on at Dr. Fyodorov’s famous eye clinic. I was nearsighted, and Fyodorov and his doctors, it was said, could correct your vision. They made incisions in the cornea, so that it splayed open and then healed closer to the lens, where the rays of light focus. (Imagine that you bought a beret that was too small, then made slits along the radius and inserted wedges so that it would fit your head.) They made the cuts with a Neva razor; they weren’t using lasers yet in 1982.
The doctor’s art consisted of making these incisions at the correct depth, so that, when the eyes healed, your vision would be 20/20. You would be able to read not just the big letters at the top of the chart but the tiny ones at the very bottom as well. However, for the three months it took to heal you’d have aches and sharp pains, and produce abundant tears in the presence of even the slightest light. Nighttime was easier, but the color green, for some reason, was torture. Traffic-light green. The excruciating pain lasted a week; after that, the flame under the frying pan was turned down, and the sauce just simmered, flaring up occasionally as chili peppers were added.
First, they operated on one eye, and then, a week or so later, on the other. My first operation must have been on November 5th. It couldn’t have been on November 7th—the Revolutionary holiday—or on November 8th or 9th, because it’s a well-known fact that after holidays doctors’ hands tremble. And November 6th was a short workday, because, well, everyone needed time to stand in line, in case the stores happened to have something that was usually in short supply.
I had the operation, and then for two days the whole country ate potato salad with mayonnaise, fish in sour cream, and homemade cookies, called “nuts,” that were filled with boiled condensed milk. Then there was the hangover, low skies, occasional snow flurries, sluggishness, and, as always . . . But, no, not at all as always! Brezhnev died! Unbelievable!
We had thought that Brezhnev was eternal. Not because he was good or bad or because he understood things or was truly as dense as a sack of Party potatoes, as he was in the jokes told about him: “Comrade Brezhnev, Christ is risen!” “Thank you, I’ve already been informed.” He simply was. He hung over the land like a thick cloud, from which rain lashed out or snow fell in heaps. Then, suddenly, the climate changed. But to what, no one could say.
Once the holidays were over, the pastries had all been eaten, and the tremor in surgeons’ hands had abated, the day to remove my bandage and operate on the other eye arrived—November 15th. I took the metro to the end of the line, and then travelled by bus to Fyodorov’s clinic, in Beskudnikovo. The bus slowly made its way across railroad tracks, past beer stands with long lines, alongside mountains of crushed rock and garbage dumps, through far-flung villages slated for demolition. Angry snowflakes came spinning down from the gloomy sky as I looked blurrily out the window with one eye.
Brezhnev had died on the tenth, and now, after four days of official mourning, he would be buried. Five minutes of silence were to be observed as he was lowered into the ground. The whole country stopped for five minutes, and the bus that was carrying me stopped, too—right on the train tracks that it was crossing. We were almost at the eye clinic, but the driver turned off the engine. It grew quiet and cold. I looked around. There were ten or so people on the bus, all of them patients of the clinic, each with a bandaged eye.
I could sense, physically, the rage that was growing around me. Ten half-blind Soviet people sat in a bus as cold as the grave, while snow whirled and beat against the windows. Ten Cyclopes kept their single eyes lowered, so as not to betray any emotion, but the position of the mouth and the lines in the forehead can be more eloquent than words or eyes. By the time the five minutes were up, we were all exhaling vapor; the air in the bus was freezing.
Then the motor turned over, revved, and a weak stream of warm air began to flow. Thus we bade farewell to an era.
I returned home in a taxi, almost blind, one eye patched, the second fully bandaged. I spent three months in near-darkness. While my eyes healed, something far more important happened, however: doors and windows opened inside me, and I developed a new, internal vision. By the time the pain had passed and I could throw away my dark glasses, I could see like an eagle, even in the dark. And I began to write.♦
(Translated, from the Russian, by Jamey Gambrell.)
Tatyana Tolstaya lives in Moscow, where her most recent book, “Light Worlds,” was published. Five of her books, including short-story and essay collections and the novel “The Slynx,” have been translated into English.
[ One of my intentions with this blog is to simply collect articles of interest to me for purposes of future reference. I do my best to indicate who has actually composed the articles. NONE of the articles have been written by me. Further, this ‘blog’ will contain various drafts of unknown writings just to be saved in the event they are needed by me, etc.– Louis Sheehan ]
Feel free to ignore this blog! I am intending to use it as a repository of various writings: drafts, doodles, etc. If there ARE any articles here, they are posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan