Andrey Platonovich Platonov

Illustration by Shuxian Lee

Novokhopersk had been occupied by the Cossacks while Aleksandr Dvanov was on his way there, but the detachment of Nekhvoraiko the Teacher had managed to push them out of the town. Novokhopersk was surrounded by dry ground, except for the approach from the river, which was all marshland; here the Cossacks had kept up only a feeble vigilance, assuming the marsh was impassable. But Teacher Nekhvoraiko had shod his horses with bast sandals, so they wouldn't drown, and taken the town during one desolate night, forcing the Cossacks out into the boggy valley, where they remained for a long time, since their horses were barefoot.

Dvanov called at the RevCom and talked to the people there. There were complaints about the lack of calico for Red Army whites, as a result of which the lice on the men were as thick as kasha—but the men were resolved to keep on fighting down to bare earth.

A mechanic from the depot, the chairman of the RevCom, said to Dvanov, 'Revolution churns up the ground. If it doesn't work out, there'll be only clay. Let every son of a bitch fend for himself if things don't go well for the workers.'

Dvanov was given no particular task. They just said, 'Live here with us, we'll all get by better. Then we'll have a look and see what you ache for the most.'

Men the same age as Dvanov were sitting in a club on the market square and diligently reading revolutionary literature. Around the readers hung red slogans, and through the windows could be seen a dangerous space of fields. Both readers and slogans were defenceless—it was possible, straight from the fields, to shoot a bullet into the head of a young Communist bent over a pamphlet.

While Dvanov was getting accustomed to militant steppe revolution and was beginning to love his comrades there, a letter came from the provincial capital ordering him to return. Aleksandr set off from the town without a word and on foot. The station was three miles' walk, but Dvanov had no idea how he would get to the capital; he had heard that the Cossacks had seized the line. A band coming across the fields from the station was playing sad music—it turned out that the cold body of the now-dead Nekhvoraiko was being carried to the town. He and his entire detachment had been trapped into death by the prosperous inhabitants of a large village called Peski or 'Sands.' Dvanov felt sorry for Nekhvoraiko, because he was being wept over not by his mother and father but only by music, and there was no feeling on the faces of the men following behind, who were themselves ready for inevitable death in the routine of revolution.

Behind Dvanov the town was sinking into its valley, out of the reach of his eyes as he looked back, and Aleksandr felt sad for the lonely town of Nekhvoraiko, as if without him it had become still more defenceless.

At the station Dvanov felt the anxiety of space that was grown over and forgotten. Like everyone, he was attracted by earth's far distance, as if all distant and invisible things missed him and were calling to him.

Ten or more nameless people were sitting on the ground and hoping for a train to take them away to a better place. They were living through the torments of the Revolution without complaint and patiently wandering through the Russian steppe in search of bread and salvation. Dvanov went outside, saw some kind of military train on Track Number 5 and walked over to it. The train was made up of two coaches and eight open wagons carrying carts and artillery. Two more open wagons carrying coal had been coupled on behind the coaches.

The unit commander allowed Dvanov into one of the coaches after checking his documents. 'But we're only going as far as Razgulyaev Junction, comrade!' said the commander. 'After that we don't need a train; we'll be marching towards our position.'

Dvanov agreed to go to Razgulyaev; from there home would be closer.

The Red Army gunners were nearly all asleep. They had been fighting near Balashov for two weeks and were badly tired. Two of them had had enough sleep and were sitting by the window, singing a quiet song because of the boredom of war. The commander was lying down and reading 'The Adventures of a Hermit, a Lover of the Beautiful, published by Tieck,' while the political commissar had disappeared somewhere inside the telegraph office. The coach, probably, had carried many Red Army soldiers, who had felt homesick during long journeys and written all over the benches and inside walls with the wax crayons men always use when they're writing home from the Front.

With heartfelt sorrow, Dvanov read these dictums—at home too, he had used to read a new calendar a year in advance.

'Our hope is anchored to the sea bed,' an unknown military wanderer had written, giving the date and place of his meditation as 'Dzhankoy, 18 September, 1918.'

Night fell, and the train moved off, without a departing whistle. Dvanov began to doze in the hot coach, and he woke up in darkness. What had woken him was the grinding of brake blocks, and also some kind of continuous sound. The window then blazed with the light of a moment, and the air low down was made hot by a shell. It had exploded quite close, brightly showing the stubble and the gentle night fields. Dvanov came to and stood up.

The train timidly came to a stop. The commissar got out, Dvanov went with him. The line was evidently being fired on by Cossacks—their battery was flashing somewhere not far away, but they kept overshooting.

The night was chilly and sad, and it took the two men some time to walk to the locomotive. The boiler was hardly making any noise and a small light, like an icon lamp, was shining over the pressure gauge.

'Why've we stopped?' asked the commissar.

'I'm worried about the line, comrade PolitCom. Cossacks are shelling it and we've extinguished our lamps—we're asking for trouble, for a bad accident,' the driver quietly answered from up above them.

'Nonsense. The shells are going over our heads,' said the commissar. 'Just get going again quickly—and be quiet about it!'

'Well, all right then,' said the engine driver. 'But I've only got one mate, and that won't be enough. Let me have a soldier for the firebox.'

Dvanov promptly climbed up into the cab to help. A shell exploded ahead of the locomotive and lit up the whole train. The engine driver paled, moved the handle of the regulator and shouted to Dvanov and the fireman, 'Keep up the steam!' Aleksandr diligently began thrusting wood into the firebox. The locomotive got going, with boiling speed. Ahead lay darkness that had gone dead—and within this darkness, perhaps, lay damaged track. On the curves the engine swayed so wildly that Dvanov thought they were about to come off the rails. The engine was frequently and abruptly cutting off steam, and there was a resonant flow of air from the friction of the locomotive's hurtling body. Sometimes, beneath the locomotive, there was the rumbling of little bridges, while clouds up above would flare with a mysterious light as they reflected the glow escaping from the open firebox. Dvanov was soon bathed in sweat, and he felt surprised that the driver was keeping the train going at such a speed—after all, they had cleared the Cossack battery long ago. But the frightened driver was endlessly demanding more steam; he was even helping to feed the firebox himself, and he didn't once move the regulator from its extreme position.

'Why's he going so fast?' Dvanov asked the driver's mate.

'I don't know,' the driver's mate replied gloomily.

'There's going to be an accident—and it'll be our fault,' said Dvanov, not knowing what to do.

The locomotive was quivering with tension and swaying its entire body, searching for a chance to hurl itself down the embankment and escape the power and pent-up speed that were suffocating it. Sometimes Dvanov felt that the locomotive had already left the rails and the coaches were about to follow and he was dying in the quiet dust of soft soil, and Aleksandr put his hands to his chest to keep his heart from terror.

When the train tore over the points and crossings of stations, he saw the wheels strike flashes of fire.

Then the locomotive would sink once again into the dark depths of its future track and the fury of an engine at full speed. The curves nearly threw the locomotive crew off their feet while the coaches and wagons behind, going at too great a speed to beat out their usual rhythm, hurtled over the rail joints with a scream of wheels.

The driver's mate had evidently had enough, and he said to the driver, 'Ivan Palych! We're nearly at Shkarino. Why not stop there? We can take on water!'

The driver heard this but said nothing. Dvanov realized that exhaustion had made the driver forget to think, and he carefully opened the lower stopcock on the tender. What he wanted was to empty out the remaining water and so prevent the driver from continuing at this pointless speed. But the driver eased back the regulator and moved away from the window. His face was calm, and he reached for his tobacco. Dvanov calmed down too and closed the stopcock on the tender. The driver smiled and said to him, 'What made you do that? Ever since Maryino Junction there's been a White armoured train behind us. I was trying to get away.'

Dvanov was still bewildered. 'So where's that train now? And why didn't you reduce speed after we passed the battery—before we got to Maryino Junction?'

'The armoured train's fallen behind—we can afford to slow down now,' the driver replied. 'Climb up on top of our logs and have a look at the track behind!'

Aleksandr climbed up onto the stack of logs. The train was still going fast, and the wind cooled Dvanov's body. Behind them lay total darkness—nothing but the screech of hurrying coaches.

'But why were you going so fast before Maryino?' Dvanov persisted.

'The battery knew where we were—they might have adjusted their aim. We needed to get further away,' said the driver. Dvanov thought he had simply been frightened.

At Shkarino the train stopped. The commissar came up to them and expressed surprise at the driver's story. Shkarino seemed empty, and it was the water tower's last water that was slowly flowing into the locomotive. Then a man from the station appeared and announced with difficulty, against the night wind, that there were Cossack patrols around Povorino—the train wouldn't get through.

'But we're only going as far as Razgulyay!' the commissar replied.

'Uh-huh!' the man said, and went off into the dark station building.

Aleksandr went in after him. The main hall was empty and dreary; Aleksandr was met in this dangerous house of the Civil War by abandonment, oblivion and prolonged anguish. The unknown solitary man who had been speaking to the commissar lay down in a corner on a surviving bench and began to cover himself with meagre clothing. Who he was and how he had come to be there was a matter of real and heartfelt interest to Aleksandr. How many times had he met, how many times was he yet to meet, these unknown people, these outsiders who lived according to their own solitary laws—but not once did his soul compel him to go up to them and question them or attach himself to them and disappear with them from the order of life. It would have been better, perhaps, if Dvanov had gone up to that man in Shkarino station and lain down beside him—and then, in the morning, gone out and disappeared in the steppe air.

'The engine driver is a coward. There was no armoured train!' Dvanov said to the commissar a little later.

'Well, the bastard will get us there somehow,' the commissar answered with calm exhaustion. Turning away, he walked off to his coach, muttering sadly to himself, 'Ah Dunya, my Dunya, how are you finding food for my children now?'

Aleksandr also went off to his coach, not yet understanding why men suffer so much: one lies in an empty station, another yearns for his wife.

Dvanov lay down to sleep in the coach, but he woke before dawn, sensing the chill of danger.

The train had stopped in damp steppe; the Red Army soldiers were snoring, scratching their bodies as they slept. There was the sound of fingernails rasping with pleasure against calloused skin. The commissar was asleep too, his face all twisted—probably he had been tormenting himself with memories of his abandoned family and had fallen asleep with grief on his face. The steppe had grown cold now, the late grass was bent down in the persistent wind and yesterday's rain had turned the earth into viscous mud. The commander was lying opposite the commissar, and he was asleep too. His book was open at a page about Raphael; Dvanov had a look—Raphael was described there as a living god of the early and happy humanity that had been born and bred on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea. But Dvanov could not imagine that time; there too the wind must have been blowing, and peasants must have had to plough in the heat and little children must have had mothers who died.

The commissar opened his eyes. 'So we've stopped, have we?'


'What the devil's going on? It's taken us twenty-four hours to cover sixty miles,' the commissar said angrily. Dvanov went with him again to the locomotive.

The locomotive stood abandoned; there was no driver and no driver's mate. Ten yards ahead lay clumsily dismantled rails.

The commissar looked more serious. 'Do you think they just wandered off?' he asked. 'Or were they attacked? The devil only knows. And how are we going to get going again now?'

'Of course they just wandered off,' said Aleksandr.

The stationary locomotive was still hot, and Dvanov decided to take over himself; he would go slowly. The commissar agreed, gave Dvanov two soldiers as his assistants and ordered the other soldiers to repair the track.

After about three hours the train moved off. Dvanov kept an eye on everything—fuel, water and track—and went on feeling anxious. The big locomotive was obedient, and Dvanov did not push it too hard. Gradually, however, he grew bolder and went faster, though he still braked carefully on curves and gradients. He told the soldiers what to do, and they did a good job of keeping up the right pressure of steam.

They passed a small deserted station called Zavalishny. An old man was sitting beside the latrines and eating bread, not looking up at the train. Dvanov went slowly, looking at the points, and then picked up speed. The sun had begun to appear through the mists and was slowly warming the damp, chilled earth. Occasional birds flew up over empty places and immediately flew down again to their food—lost, stray seeds.

They came to a long downhill gradient. Dvanov closed off the steam and kept going, with increasing speed, just from momentum.

Far into the distance the line looked clear, up to the dip in the steppe where the uphill gradient began. Dvanov felt calmer now and he left his seat, so he could see how his assistants were getting on and have a chat with them. After about five minutes he went back to the window and looked out. In the distance he could see a signal—probably it was Razgulyay. Beyond the signal he could make out the smoke of a locomotive, but this didn't surprise him: Razgulyay was in Soviet hands—he'd been told that in Novokhopersk. There was some kind of headquarters there, and it maintained good communications with the large junction station of Liski.

The locomotive smoke at Razgulyay turned into a cloud, and Dvanov could see the chimney of the locomotive and its front. 'He's probably just come from Liski,' Aleksandr thought. But the locomotive was moving towards the signal—towards his own train. 'He'll stop now, he's going into a siding,' thought Dvanov, watching the locomotive. But the rapid puffs of smoke from the chimney bore witness to the work of the engine: the locomotive was coming towards them at a fair speed. Dvanov leaned right out of the window and watched intently. The locomotive passed the signal—it was pulling a heavy military or freight train along single track, heading straight for Dvanov's locomotive. Dvanov was now going downhill, the other locomotive was going downhill too, and they would meet where there was a dip in the steppe and the gradient changed. Aleksandr realized this was going to end badly and pulled on the handle of the double alarm; the soldiers saw the oncoming train and began to feel agitated from fear.

'I'll slow the train down. Then jump!' said Dvanov; there was nothing, in any case, that the soldiers could do to help. The Westinghouse brakes weren't working—Aleksandr had discovered this yesterday, from the previous driver. There was nothing left but reverse movement: reverse steam. The other train had already seen them and was letting out a continuous alarm whistle. Dvanov hooked the whistle ring to a valve so the alarm signal wouldn't be interrupted and began to move the reverser.

His hands had gone cold and could barely turn the stiff spindle. Then Dvanov opened full steam and leaned against the boiler out of wilting exhaustion; he did not see the soldiers jump, but he felt glad they were gone.

The train crept slowly backwards; the locomotive's wheels were skidding and water was spurting into the chimney.

Dvanov wanted to leave the locomotive but he thought that he must have torn the cylinder covers by going into reverse too abruptly. No, there was steam coming out of the cylinders; it wasn't the cylinders that were broken—only the shaft packing. The oncoming locomotive was approaching very briskly; the friction of the brake blocks was making blue smoke spread from beneath its wheels, but the weight of the train was too great for the locomotive alone to be able to stifle its speed. The engine driver was giving quick and abrupt triple whistles, signalling to his crew to apply the hand brakes; Dvanov understood and kept watching everything, as if from a distance. At that hour his slow thinking was a help to him—he felt afraid to leave his locomotive because he would have been shot by the political commissar or excluded in due course from the Party. On top of that, Zakhar Pavlovich—let alone Dvanov's fisherman father—would never have left an entire hot locomotive to perish without a driver, and this too was something Aleksandr kept in mind.

Dvanov seized hold of the windowsill to brace himself against the impact and took a last look at his adversary. From this other train people were spilling out onto the ground any old how, mutilating and saving themselves. Someone also crashed down from the locomotive onto the escarpment; probably it was the driver or his assistant. Dvanov looked back at his own train; there was no sign of anyone—probably they were all asleep.

Aleksandr screwed up his eyes and feared the thunder of the crash. Then, in an instant, on legs suddenly come to life, he swung himself out of the cab and grabbed hold of the handrail, ready to jump; only at this point did Dvanov sense his helping consciousness: the boiler was certain to blow up from the impact and he would be crushed as an enemy of the locomotive. Running beneath him, close at hand, was the strong, solid earth, which was waiting for his life and which, in a moment, would be orphaned without him. The earth was unattainable and was slipping away as if alive; Dvanov remembered something he had seen and felt as a child: his mother was slipping away to the market, and he was chasing after her on unaccustomed and dangerous legs, crying his own tears and thinking his mother had gone away for ever and ever.

Warm silence of darkness eclipsed Dvanov's vision.

'I haven't had my say!' said Dvanov, and he disappeared in the crampedness clustering around him.

He came to himself a long way away and alone; old dry grass was tickling his neck, and nature seemed very noisy. Both locomotives had their whistles and safety valves on full blast: the collision had distorted their springs. Dvanov's locomotive was standing correctly on the rails, except that the frame had buckled; it had turned blue from the sudden tension and heat. The Razgulyay locomotive was at an angle and its wheels had cut into the ballast. The front coach of the train from Novokhopersk had been split open; the two next coaches had gone through it like a wedge. Two coaches from the other train had been squeezed out and thrown onto the grass; their wheel bogies were lying on the tender of the locomotive.

The commissar came up to Dvanov: 'Still alive?'

'I'm all right. But what happened?'

'Don't ask me! Their driver says that his brakes failed and he went through Razgulyay without stopping. We've arrested the cretin. And what the devil were you thinking about?'

Dvanov took fright. 'I'd gone into reverse. Summon a commission. Let them see what position the lever's in.'

'What use is that? Forty men are lying dead—we've lost men from both trains. With losses like that we could have taken a whole White town. And they say there are Cossacks roaming around—there's going to be trouble.'

A rescue train soon arrived from Razgulyay, bringing workers and tools. Everyone forgot about Dvanov, and he set off towards Liski.

But on his way lay a toppled man. He was swelling up with such speed that the movement of his growing body was visible and his face was slowly darkening, as if the man were tumbling into the dark. Dvanov even turned his attention to the daylight: if a man could go black like this, was daylight functioning?

Soon the man had grown so much that Dvanov felt frightened: the man might burst and splatter out his liquids of life. Dvanov stepped back, but the man began to subside and brighten; probably he had died long ago—it was only dead substances that were getting agitated inside him.

A Red Army soldier was squatting down and looking at his groin, from which blood was pressing out like dark wine. The soldier's face was growing paler as he tried to push himself up with one hand, addressing his blood with slow words: 'Stop you bitch—I'll get weak!'

But the blood went on thickening until one could sense its taste; then there was black in it and then it stopped completely. Then the soldier slumped back and said quietly, with the sincerity of someone not expecting an answer, 'I feel so dreary—there's no one with me.'

Dvanov went right up to the soldier and the soldier said with consciousness, 'Shut out my sight!' The soldier continued to look, not blinking, through eyes that were growing dry, without the least tremor of eyelids.

'Why?' asked Aleksandr, and felt agitated from shame.

'It hurts,' the soldier explained—and he clenched his teeth so as to shut his eyes. But his eyes wouldn't shut; they went on losing their light and colour, turning into cloudy mineral. The soldier's eyes had died, the passing reflections of a cloudy sky could be seen in them—as if nature had come back into the man after the removal of an oncoming life that had obstructed its way. So as not to suffer, the soldier then accommodated himself to nature through death.

Dvanov avoided Razgulyay station in case anyone stopped him and checked his documents, and he disappeared into unpeopled parts where people lived without help.

Railwaymen's huts, with their thoughtful inhabitants, had always attracted Dvanov—he imagined that railwaymen were wise and calm in their solitude. Dvanov went into the railside huts to drink water; he saw poor children playing not with toys but with imagination alone, and he could have stayed with them forever, in order to share their fate of life.

It was also in a hut that Dvanov spent the night, though only in the entrance room, since a woman was giving birth and she was being loudly miserable all through the night. Her husband was wandering about without sleep, stepping over Dvanov and saying to himself in astonishment, 'At a time like this . . . a time like this . . . '

He was afraid that the child being born to him might perish in the calamity of Revolution. The mother's loud anguish kept waking up a four-year-old boy, who drank water, went outside to pee and looked at everything as if he were an outsider who lived there, understanding but not approving. To his surprise, Dvanov finally dropped off and awoke in the colourless light of morning, with long dreary rain rustling gently on the roofs.

The contented owner came through and immediately said, 'It's a boy.'

'That's very good,' said Aleksandr—and got up from his bed on the floor. 'Another human being!'

The newborn person's father took offence: 'Yes, another cowherd—there's more than enough people as it is.'

Dvanov went out into the rain, so as to keep going further away. The four-year-old was sitting in the window and smearing his fingers across the glass, imagining something that was different from his own life. Aleksandr waved goodbye to him twice, but the boy took fright and climbed down off the window—and so Dvanov saw no more of him and would never see him again.

'Goodbye!' Dvanov said to the house and to the place where he had slept, and set out towards Liski.

After about half a mile, he met a cheery old woman carrying a bundle.

'She's had her baby already,' Dvanov said to her, so she wouldn't hurry.

'Already?' the woman said with quick surprise. 'So it's come early, it'll be sickly. Dear, oh dear! But what is it, what's the Good Lord given them?'

'A boy,' Aleksandr said with satisfaction, as if he had taken part in the event.

'A boy! Another one who won't honour his parents!' the old woman decided. 'It's hard work giving birth, my good fellow! If a man were ever to give birth, he'd be bowing down at the very feet of his wife and his mother-in-law.'

The old woman at once moved into a long speech—of no use to Dvanov—and he cut her short.

'Well, Grandma, goodbye! You and I won't be giving birth—so why should we quarrel?'

'Goodbye, my dear! Remember your mother—don't fail to honour her!'

Dvanov promised to honour his parents, gladdening the old woman with his respect.


It was a long journey home for Aleksandr. He walked amid the grey sorrow of a cloudy day and looked at the autumn earth. Sometimes the sun unclothed itself in the sky and lay down with its light against the grass, the sand and the dead clay, exchanging feelings with them without the least consciousness. Dvanov liked the sun's silent friendship, its encouragement of the earth through light.

In Liski he got onto a train full of sailors and Chinese heading towards Tsaritsyn. The sailors delayed the train while they beat up the man in charge of the canteen for giving them soup with no meat in it; after this the train set off peacefully. The Chinese ate all the fish soup the Russian sailors had refused, then used bread to mop up all the nourishing moisture from the sides of the soup pots and said to the sailors in reply to their questions about death, 'We love death! We love it very much!' Then the well-fed Chinese lay down to sleep. During the night sailor Kontsov, who was thinking too much to feel like sleeping, stuck the barrel of his rifle through a gap in the door and shot at the passing lights of railwaymen's huts and signals; Kontsov was afraid that he was defending people and would die for them all for nothing, and so he was acquiring in advance a sense of obligation to fight in the name of those who had suffered at his hand. When he had done his shooting, Kontsov immediately and contentedly fell asleep and stayed asleep for nearly 300 miles; Aleksandr had long ago left the coach, on the morning of the second day.

Dvanov opened the wicket gate into his yard and was glad to see the old tree growing beside the entrance-room. The tree was covered in cuts and wounds, an axe had repeatedly been put to rest in it while chopping firewood, but it was still alive, still keeping the green passion of foliage on its sick branches.

'You back, Sasha?' asked Zakhar Pavlovich. 'It's good you've come back—I've been here on my own. With you gone, I didn't feel like sleeping. I just lay there listening and listening: could that be you I heard? I didn't even lock the door because of you—so you could come straight in.'

During his first days at home, Aleksandr shivered and tried to get warm on the stove, while Zakhar Pavlovich sat down below and dozed as he sat.

'Sash, maybe there's something you want?' Zakhar Pavlovich would ask from time to time.

'No, I don't want anything.'

'I was thinking that perhaps you should eat something.'

Soon Dvanov could no longer hear Zakhar Pavlovich's questions or see him weeping at night and hiding his face in the recess in the stove where Aleksandr's socks were drying. Dvanov had caught typhus, which kept coming back, not leaving the patient's body for eight months and then developing into pneumonia. Aleksandr lay in forgetfulness of his life and only occasionally in the winter nights did he hear locomotive whistles and remember them; sometimes the rumble of distant artillery reached the indifferent mind of the patient, and then it felt hot and noisy again in the cramped space of his body. During moments of consciousness Dvanov lay empty and dried up. All he could sense was his skin and he pressed himself down against his bedding; it seemed to him he might fly off, just as the dry light little corpses of spiders fly away.

Before Easter Zakhar Pavlovich made a coffin for his adoptive son; it was sturdy and splendid, with bolts and flanges—the last gift that a master-craftsman father could give to his son. Zakhar Pavlovich wanted a coffin like this to preserve Aleksandr—if not alive, then at least intact for memory and love; every ten years Zakhar Pavlovich was going to dig up his son from the grave, so as to see him and sense himself together with him.

Dvanov first left the house when the time was new; the air felt heavy like water, the sun seemed noisy from the burning of fire, and the entire world seemed fresh, pungent and intoxicating to his weakness. Life once again shone before Dvanov—his body had springiness, and his thoughts were leavened with fantasy.

A girl he knew, Sonya Mandrova, was looking across the fence at Aleksandr. She couldn't understand how come, if there'd been a coffin, Sasha hadn't died.

'You haven't died?' she asked.

'No,' said Aleksandr. 'And you're alive too?'

'I'm alive too. Together we're going to live. Do you feel well now?'

'Yes, I do. And you?'

'I feel well too. But why are you so thin? Is it that death was inside you and you didn't let it in?'

'Did you want me to die?' asked Dvanov.

'I don't know,' answered Sonya. 'I've seen that there are a lot of people. They're dying, and then they stay.'

Dvanov asked her to come round. Sonya climbed over the fence in her bare feet and gently touched Aleksandr, having forgotten him during the winter. Dvanov told her what he had seen in his dreams and how dreary it had been in the darkness of sleep. There hadn't been any people anywhere, and he knew now how few of them there were in the world: it had been the same when he was walking through steppeland not far from the war—he hadn't come across many homes there either.

'I wasn't thinking when I said I don't know,' said Sonya. 'If you'd died, I'd have begun crying for a long time. I'd rather you'd gone a long way away—then I'd have thought you're alive in one piece.'

Aleksandr looked at her with surprise. Sonya had grown during this year, although she had eaten little; her hair had darkened, her body had acquired carefulness and being near her felt shameful.

'Sash, you don't yet know. I'm studying now, I'm going to courses.'

'What do they teach there?'

'Everything we don't know. One teacher says we're stinking dough and he'll make us into a sweet pie. He can say what he likes—after all, we're going to learn politics from him, aren't we?'

'You—stinking dough?'

'Uh-uh. But soon I won't be, and nor will others, because I'll become a teacher of children and they'll start getting clever from when they're little. And no one will call them stinking dough.'

Dvanov touched one of her hands, so as to get used to her again—and Sonya gave him her second hand too.

'You'll get well better like this,' she said. 'You're cold, I'm hot. Can you feel?'

'Sonya, come round to us in the evening,' said Aleksandr. 'I'm tired of being on my own.'

Sonya came round in the evening, and Sasha did some drawing for her and she showed him how to draw better. Zakhar Pavlovich quietly carried out the coffin and chopped it up into firewood. 'What we need now is a cradle,' he thought. 'Where can I find iron that's supple enough to make springs? We haven't got any at work—the only iron we've got is for locomotives. Maybe Sonya and Sasha will have children and I'll be the one who looks after them. Sonya will be old enough soon—and yes, it's good she exists; she's an orphan too.'

After Sonya had left, Dvanov felt frightened and immediately lay down to sleep until morning, so as to see a new day and have no memory of the night. But he lay there and saw night with open eyes; after growing stronger and being stirred up, life didn't want to go and forget about itself in him. Dvanov pictured to himself the dark over the tundra; people exiled from the warm places of the earth had gone there to live. These people had made a little railway line, in order to carry logs for the construction of dwellings to replace their lost summer climate. Dvanov imagined he was an engine driver on this logging line that took timber to build new cities, and he did all the driver's work in his mind—crossing sections of unpeopled wilderness, taking on water at stations, whistling in the middle of a blizzard, braking, talking to his assistant—before finally falling asleep at the final station, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. In his sleep he saw large trees, growing out of poor soil; around them was airy, faintly oscillating space, and an empty track was patiently going away into the distance. Dvanov envied all this; he would have liked to take the trees, the air and the track and put them somewhere inside himself, so there would be no time to die under their protection. And there was something else that Dvanov wanted to remember, but the effort was heavier than the memory and his thought disappeared round a bend of consciousness in sleep, like a bird from a wheel beginning to turn.

translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, and Olga Meerson

Click here to read Robert Chandler's essay on translating Andrey Platonovich Platonov, also from this issue.