Принц Папа Жан

DOWN THE STAIRS AND BEYOND

DOWN THE STAIRS AND BEYOND
It was long, this strange journey of mine. As if it started nowhere, passed through nowhere and led nowhere. I recalled the experiences from the last day before the journey moment by the moment, detail after detail. And still something eluded me. The party at the Fortress continued almost to the morning when we started going downwards. I remember I got home very tired but could not recall when I had gone out of the house.
“May be I suffer from somnambulism,” giggled I.
I wished to make sure I was not in the OTHER MEDIUM, although I did not remember to have been in a fit. No, no, I was not in the other medium. My voice was clear and not resounding as it is when I am in one of my fits. I could also control my movements. Yes, I suffered from somnambulism. Once I dreamt I had met a super-reason. I explained to him that man is not a reasonable being, the crown of creation, in God’s image etc., but a diagnosis. When I came to my senses I realized I had been talking to the striptease girl from the night club below my flat. The visitors must have taken me for a part of the programme. Moreover I was in my pyjamas. Very funny.
… Unfortunately it was not so! I was turning over in my mind these funny stories in order to dispel the frantic and hollow fear which had begun to overcome me. I had lost myself, so even disregarding the fact that I had partial amnesia and forgot many things; of itself that was enough, plus the monstrous sensation of the horror which was beginning to take hold of me.
No! I have never suffered from somnambulism and never visited the striptease girl from the night club in my pyjamas. I was going along in an inexplicable way towards an inexplicable goal. Period.
I stopped for a moment to look about me. The landscape was quite ordinary. It was night. Warm but dark night. The sky darkens and the light of the full moon is sinister or at any rate dubiously dispersed. Around me spreads a deciduous forest, neither very wild nor very old, and I am walking along a footpath covered with small pieces of stone on which my shoes produce a crackling sound. I had worn my autumn shoes on. I was wearing my plastic jacket and was dressed for autumnal weather though it had been summer until yesterday. My puzzlement grew and the white spot in my memory was becoming a screen. Yes, yes, almost a screen of a family TV set but a portable one.
“Persecution mania is something usual in cases of amnesia. This mania is quite senseless and even harmful… I could hardly fill in the white spots in my memory in this way. Something has happened but if I fail to cope let not my name be Papa Jan!…”
This is what I said. To myself, of course. I wanted to boost my spirits myself and continued along the path. At least by sunrise I would meet some one and would know where I was. Then I would return home and by and by, one after another, I would put my memories in order.
The full moon made me start.
“But yesterday we had a new moon… Yesterday on the Fortress I saw the new moon!”
Well, it wasn’t yesterday, then! A lot of time had passed and here I was…
Why and how — I don’t know.
And I should not ask myself any questions.
But I should walk on!
My SCAR started itching. I had thought it almost invisible, quietly lying on the Line of Life on my palm. It could not even be noticed. Sometimes, however, I felt it and that was always a warning of some danger.
I bristled all over and began looking about me. It was deadly quiet. No, no, it was autumnally quiet and generally smelt of autumn. Where had that splendid summer gone? I did not find in my memories anything that would give me an answer but neither did I see around me any signs of imminent danger.
The scar, however, continued to pulsate.
I got it when I was seventeen. I had not fallen in love so passionately till then. One day the girl pointed a knife towards herself. No, no, I did not wrest it from her — that was not part of the game. She said that if I loved her, I had to put my palm in the way of the knife’s tip. And she pulled it towards herself. I held it. I lost much blood. It was a childish whim but whenever I felt the scar I was proud to have it. This scar preserved me from danger. It always warned me when a mishap might befall me. It kept guard on the Line of my Life on my palm. It was a portable bodyguard. Or a biological alarm device.
I continued on my way along the path and the walking was like a trance. I came to my senses just a moment before colliding with an iron gate which unexpectedly stood in my way.
A large inscription read : “43th dimension. No entry.”
Was the obstacle as interesting as it pretended to be? I walked round it. There was nothing special on the other side, the path simply continued but on the reverse side of the door there was an inscription:
“You’ve missed the party! Ha-ha-ha-ha! Asshole, you!”
I went back to the other side and opened the door. I saw an interminable staircase. I went along it and the corridor showed no end even after I had walked for more than an hour. The staircase was familiar, as if I had previously descended it but in fact I had not. Such a big staircase moreover hardly existed anywhere in the world. Unless it was the unfamiliar and secret eighth wonder. Why and wherefore did I find myself in it, if what I was looking at was at all real? Where for God’s sake had I seen this staircase.
I sat on one of the stairs and unsuccessfully tried to analyse everything. The only conclusion I reached was that what I was experiencing was quite real.
“So, yes… Damn it — it’s true! Am I dreaming? No! Truly no. Am I a drug addict? No! Perhaps a chronic alcoholic? No, recently I have been abstaining from drinking altogether because alcohol contains too many calories and it seems I have mentioned this already. I am Papa Jan. The name on my birth certificate is Ivan. When I grew up a little bit and began to have relationships with girls one of them called me Jan and I became Jan to everyone since then until I became a nature healer in the vast land of Russia when people began calling me “Papa”, sometimes even “Padre” like a priest. I am Papa Jan and besides being a nature healer I am a man who likes to paint and carve wood and also to write poems, frequently to join merry company, to fall in love with beautiful women… I also have a passion for collecting paintings and entertain the ambition to set up a UNIVERSAL GALLERY which has always been a goal in my life. I don’t dress expensively! I don’t drive fast cars! This is how I like it… The company of vivacious young people is frequently more to my liking than that of stolidly didactic persons…
In short: normal!”
I fell silent; I had been talking to myself. I was really frightened.
“I have seen this staircase somewhere!” I muttered.
The rope! Yes, the rope and the gym! The rope I used to climb! I was eight as I was in the second class and we were having rope climbing as a test in physical education. These tests had always provided a spectacle for the class and a great opportunity for the one being tested.
For me this was not a difficult test. In me there was something artistic. It was in me even then. I took every opportunity to show off and this is one of the reasons perhaps to have a reputation for naughtiness. Tests in physical education were a real treat just because they provided a legitimate way for me to show off.
I had fallen in love with my school mate Elena and I wished by all means to impress her. I knew I was sure to succeed as soon as this occurred to me in the history lesson which preceded that of physical education. In these classes at least I was the centre of attention. This time I had to outjump myself and knew very well how to do it. I was simply to do it and that was it!
In the break I could not subdue myself any longer and told Elena, no matter how shy I was with her, to observe what was to happen when my turn came at the rope. I was going to climb by the rope to the hook in the ceiling on which it was suspended and than grab the hook and begin kicking the ceiling like a clown who wished to walk upon it head downwards.
“What are you going to do?” queried Elena.
“In your name I’ll make everyone laugh.”
The phrase “in your name” must have been borrowed from a book of course.
Elena laughed and started stamping her foot on the mosaic floor of the school corridor. As she laughed her eyes became slanted slits, Japanese fashion.
Was she going to laugh when I got on the rope?
In the locker room while the other boys were scuffling I was taut as a string. This is perhaps how medieval knights participating in tournaments used to feel. Of course knights do not act like clowns. They, however, beg only empty things like a discreet smile or a flower being thrown at them. And I wanted HER SMILE.
To be honest, I am still unable to paint her eyes, slit in laughter. Much later I was to see that same way of smiling in Mona Lisa.
Be that as it may. While the others were frolicking in the locker room I was concentrating my artistic energy and preparing my trick. It was not going to be at all difficult. The hook was big enough and I was up to the job.
One could even say I was rather self-confident. As when I fell from the bridge which happened two months prior to the stage fever I am now describing.
The break, although the long one, passed very quickly. When the door of the gym was opened and we jostled through it eager to begin our pranks on the gym apparatuses I stood at the end of the line, calm as never before. Until then I had been simply stupid. I knew already: the last one entered like an emperor.
The testing began. I was number eight and was feverish with impatience. A moment before I wished I had more time to think over my number but now I was brimful with excitement. I was eager for my turn to come and then… Stage fever is a real horror, isn’t it?
But I was number eight.
And No.8 is placed right between No.7 and No.9.
The others did not matter to me.
Except Elena.
At last my turn came and I got to the hook where, twisting adroitly, I placed my feet on the ceiling and starting slapping them on it.
The class was frightened and did not break out laughing at once but I continued to slap my feet on the ceiling till I heard the loud voice of the teacher who threatened to box my ears and then reached for the ears of those who had broken out laughing.
It was time for me to begin the second number in my program-to let go of the hook, head downwards, and then, making a sudden turnaround catch hold of the rope. At any rate this seemed quite possible till that moment. Or at least that is how wanted it to happen. Later, I was to realize that it was more like a game of chance than a well calculated risk. But at the time I let go of the hook and dived downwards. That time I had even worse luck than I had when I fell from the bridge. When I fell I did not lose consciousness but experienced everything. In the brief second which followed I seemed to see Eli’s wide open eyes. They were beautiful as when they were half-closed with laughter. Then came the collision. This time I did not fall on my legs. I fell on my head and experienced all the pain. The more incredible when I fell from the bridge was the fact that I did so upon my legs, the more incredible now was the fact that in my fall from the rope I landed upon my head. Then came the pain. No, not at once — at first everything around was bright and then darkened.
In the instant before darkness swallowed the outlines of everything I managed to see Eli’s face. She had bent over me. It seemed that only for the sake of her frightened face it was worth it for me to fall four meters upon my head.
I came to in the doctor’s room with Eli above me still. And on her face I read, or wished to read an expression even more beautiful than her smile: “Iv is alive!”
After my fall I began writing verse which is one more argument in favour of the view that poetry is a scatterbrain business.
Now I was on the STAIRS. Only now, sitting on one stair, I realized that while I was unconscious I had seen the staircase for the first time. Though as in a dream.
Now, however, I had not had a fall from anywhere. Or at least I did not remember to have had a fall.
It means I was dreaming.
Or at any rate I wished I was.
But I saw the stairs as quite real. But what sort of staircase was it? It was hardly the Planet Melody. I would never know, however, whethever it was endless indeed if I did not attempt to traverse it.
I went on descending. The scar on my Line of Life continued aching and suggesting that danger was lurking around me. It has never bothered me for such a long time.
Except maybe then on the airplane. I did not heed it then but fortunately God willed that I remain alive. I did not heed the scar because I very much wanted to be on that plane. I wanted that very much and had enough money to buy the plane. Three times I went to the airport. Twice I had to return empty handed because the boss had not been in. On the third time the plane I was going to buy was just taking off. Inside it was the son of the company boss Andreevsky whom I had been looking for. I was explaining to the boys from the airfield security detail, Vitya and Alek, that this was my airplane and after a few hours the three of us would flying like this when the crash happened…
The scar had been warning me but I did not wish to heed it.
It started bothering me even before I came on the staircase and half a day had passed since that moment. Yes, I felt that quite a long time had passed though I had no way of ascertaining. My pocket watch — Russian made and not of the best quality — had gone completely mad. The hand indicating the seconds was moving to and fro like a pendulum from the forty-seventh to the forty-eighth second and back and the hands showing minutes and hours had got stuck at their zenith and were not moving from the position.
They indicated twelve. The portentous twelve! And the scar was giving me a terrible burning sensation. This time, however, it was not merely warning of danger. The scar kept track of the time which the watch refused to measure… . What then?
I had been walking for forty-eight hours. I had not gotten tired. I felt no need of sleep, food or water.
“I don’t understand anything”, I said outloud and the echo repeated it down the stairs.
“I don’t even wish to understand”, said an inner voice inside me.
“Incredible”, I countered my inner voice in amazement.
“Come on, enough is enough! Of that there is no use! You continue wasting time wondering!” the inner voice spoke again. And it urged me forward. “Behave as you did then in the air-raid shelter!”
A second voice chimed in:
“You are tired. Stop! Think! While you are walking it is impossible to think! In this way you will lose bearings completely and will never get out of this staircase! Forty-eight hours have passed! Two days! You will collapse with exhaustion and will never get out of this staircase! And nobody will find you! Your bones will rot and nobody will notice!… Nobody!… Nobody!… Never!…”
This voice was right. As long as I went ahead I remained at the mercy of chance. But while I walked on I would never cease to believe I would get to the exit.
“But what sort of a staircase is this? I continued to wonder and resist the voices inside me. “It is so large that it could not have been built by human hand…”
“This does not matter to you! You must do something!” At first I failed to recognize which of the voices it was. The important thing was to continue.
“You will die here if you continue in this way! You will die of exhaustion!… Save your strength and mind how you use it. You have got lost more than once before! Remember the case when you lost your way on the road for the ‘Belovo’ mountain chalet and that girl could have died. She had frozen so!… Do recall also the time you were in the taiga and that trapper! You have also missed trains! You must be careful on your way!…”
Something extraordinary was indeed happening to me. I could not understand this experience but I wished to experience everything, didn’t I? Haven’t people for years built ships to take them to uncharted lands?
“Don’t forget the trapper… He saved your life then but he may not turn up again. You have to find an exit. Don’t move a step further because you get entangled more and more. Listen to your scar. Now Antonia is quite an ordinary wife and mother but then she was a real witch. She cut the Line of Your Life to remind you that life is made of flesh and blood and not ideas. Ideas only cause flesh to suffer pain. Had you heeded your scar you would not have got where you are now.”
“ I can’t leave this staircase without having traversed at least an insignificant portion of it and understood it!” I objected.
“Remember the old trapper!”
“This is nonsense!” This was now the first voice who was opposed to the second. “You have come too far to go back just now for no apparent reason without having traversed the stairs! Do go on!… You know that you’ll reach the exit! You know that you have always managed to pull it off!”
I was more inclined to trust the second voice. The first had brought me to this trap and I did not want listen to it any more.
“But perhaps your strength will fail you before you reach the top!” This was a new voice of doubt and it seemed a third one to me but it was not. It was again the second, now doubting itself. “ You made quite a long stop at this place! Your strength will fail you!”
“What am I to do then?”
“Do think up something!” the second voice could have killed me.
“Now you realized, didn’t you, that I am in front of you?” The first voice made itself heard. “I am the voice you have always heeded. It was I who brought you here for good or evil! I brought you because I am you! The other voice is the voice of the body which has no confidence in itself…”
“So I have discovered a way“, I shouted loudly as though I was reciting a poem. “So I am going somewhere. So there is wind in my sails! I might discover something! This is what I have been looking for, isn’t it… This is what I have always missed, haven’t I!”
“Do continue!” the first voice told me. “Stop reciting and continue!…”
“But where am I?”
“The road ahead will answer you!”
“And why not the heart?”
“Because I am the heart! And I am telling you no staircase leads to heaven!”
“Once you embark on a staircase to heaven don’t look back!” I quoted the words of John Climacus and did not utter a word more.
I rushed down the stairs. I jumped several stairs at a time as though I was chasing the bottom. The bottom Pavlina and I had been looking for. The bottom which had embraced in its cruel bosom for ever more than one of my friends.
Nikolai Geshev! I loved him so much. I was not afraid of dying the way he did.
I sped on downwards. To win against death you had to throw yourself upon her and yank the scythe from her hands… Climbing down to the bottom with Pavlina we even mocked at the Milky Way.
Maybe I’ll discover something. Wasn’t I doing exactly the same from the moment I stood on my two hands upon the parapet of the bridge up until now. Didn’t I strive for that. Didn’t I miss just that; always.
Having got into such feverish state, I did not realize that two more hours had passed and my legs again felt the need for a rest.
Then a door stood in my way, similar to the first which took me onto the staircase. Like the first, this one also bore an inscription:
“YOU HAVE MISSED THE PARTY! THERE ARE NO MORE STAIRS DOWN! DOWN BELOW IS NOTHING! THIS IS THE TRUTH!”
THEDOORWHICHALWAYSLIES!

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