Moscow but Dreaming

Chapter 12




“Are you feeling all right?” the lecturer says, his yellow hands shaking, filling me with quiet dread. Same beard, same bald patch.

I nod.

“Where did that zombie thing come from?” he asks, concerned.

“You said it yourself. Chthonic deities always ask for a price. If you don’t pay, you stay dead or become a zombie. Women stay dead.”

He lifts his eyebrows encouragingly. “Oh?”

“Dead are objects,” I tell him. “Don’t you know that? Some would rather become zombies than objects. Only zombies are still objects, even though they don’t think they are.”

I can see that he wants to laugh but decides not to. “And why do you think women decide to stay dead?”

I feel nauseous and think of Inanna who kind of ruins my thesis. I ignore her. “It has something to do with sex,” I say miserably.

He really tries not to laugh.


In the hospital, when I lay in a sulfazine-and-neuroleptics coma, he would sit on the edge of my bed. “You know what they say about me.”

“Yes,” I whispered, my cheeks so swollen that they squeezed my eyes shut. “Lenin is more alive than any of the living.”

“And what is life?”

“According to Engels, it’s a mode of existence of protein bodies.”

“I am a protein body,” he said. “What do you have to say to that?”

“I want to go home,” I whispered with swollen lips. “Why can’t you leave me alone?”

He didn’t answer, but his waxen fingers stroked my cheek, leaving a warm melting trail behind them.


“I thought for sure you were a cutter,” Fedya says.

I shiver in my underwear and hug my shoulders. My skin puckers in the cold breeze from the window. “I’m not.” I feel compelled to add, “Sorry.”

“You can get dressed now,” he says.

I do.

He watches.


The professor is done with chthonic deities, and I lose interest. I drift through the dark hallways, where the walls are so thick that they still retain the cold of some winter from many years ago. I poke my head into one auditorium, and listen a bit to a small sparrow of a woman chatter about Kant. I stop by the stairwell on the second floor, to bum a cigarette off a fellow student with black horn-rimmed glasses.

“Skipping class?” she says.

“Just looking for something to do.”

“You can come to my class,” she says. “It’s pretty interesting.” “What is it about?”


I finish my smoke and tag along.

This lecturer looks like mine, and I take for a sign. I sit in an

empty seat in the back, and listen. “The idea of capitalism rests on the concept of free market,” he says. “Who can tell me what it is?” No one can, or wants to.

The lecturer notices me. “What do you think? Yes, you, the young lady who thinks it’s a good idea to waltz in in the middle of the class. What is free market?”

“It’s when you pay the right price,” I say. “To the chthonic deities. If you don’t pay you become a zombie or just stay dead.”

He stares at me. “I don’t think you’re in the right class.”


I sit in the stairwell of the second floor. Lenin emerges from the brass stationary ashtray and sits next to me. There’s one floor up and one down, and nowhere really to run.

“What have you learned today?” he asks in an almost paternal voice.

“Free market,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. “It will end the existence of the protein bodies in a certain mode.” A part of his cheek is peeling off.

“Remember when I was in the hospital?”

“Of course. Those needles hurt. You cried a lot.”

I nod. “My boyfriend doesn’t like me.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “If it makes it any better, I will leave soon.”

I realize that I would miss him. He followed me since I was little. “Is it because of the free market?” I ask. “I’m sorry. I’ll go back to the chthonic deities.”

“It’s not easy,” he says and stands up, his joints whirring, his skin shedding like sheets of wax paper. He walks away on soft rubbery legs.


“Things die eventually,” I tell Fedya. “Even those that are not quite dead to begin with.”

“Yeah, and?” he answers and drinks his coffee.

I stroke the melted circles in the plastic, like craters on the lunar surface. “One doesn’t have to be special to die. One has to be special to stay dead. This is why you like Euridice, don’t you?”

He frowns. “Is that the one Orpheus followed to Hades?”

“Yes. Only he followed her the wrong way.”


There is a commotion on the second floor, and the stairwell is isolated from the corridor by a black sheet. The ambulances are howling outside, and distraught smokers crowd the hallway, cut off from their usual smoking place.

I ask a student from my class what’s going on. He tells me that the chthonic lecturer has collapsed during the lecture about the hero’s journey. “Heart attack, probably.”

I push my way through the crowd, just in time to see the paramedics carry him off. I see the stooped back of a balding dead man following the paramedics and their burden, not looking back. Some students cry.

“He just died during the lecture,” a girl’s voice behind me says. “He just hit the floor and died.”

I watch the familiar figure on uncertain soft legs walk downstairs in a slow mincing shuffle, looking to his right at the waxen profile with an upturned beard staring into the sky from the gurney. The lecturer and zombie Lenin disappear from my sight, and I turn away. “Stay dead,” I whisper. “Don’t look back.”

The rest is up to them and chthonic deities.


I sit in my underwater palace, looking through the window at the schools of bright, silent fish drifting in the crystal water, I listen to the sweet music played by jellyfish and seahorses, and I remember. After the love is gone and all the tears are cried out, what else is left to do?

This story does not have a happy ending; they almost never do. The only happy stories you will ever hear are told by men— they spin their lies, trying to convince themselves that they cause no devastation, and that the hearts they break were never worth much to begin with. But I am the one who lives under the sea, keeping it full and salty. I, the daughter of the Sea kami Watatsumi. I, who once had a sister and a husband.

I wouldn’t have met my husband Hoori no mikoto if it weren’t for his foolishness. Back on land, he was a ruler of Central Land of Reed Plains, but still he loved to hunt. His brother, Hoderi no mikoto, was the best fisherman their young country had ever known. But Hoori was not content with what he had. He talked his brother into trading their jobs for a day.

Hoderi could not use his brother’s bow and arrows and found no game. Hoori was even less successful: not only did he fail to catch any fish, he also lost the fishhook his brother prized above every other possession. Hoderi was upset at the loss, and Hoori swore that he would find it.

He spent days searching the beaches, digging through the mounds of withered kelp, looking under the weightless pieces of driftwood pale like the moon, turning over every stone, round and polished by the sea into the brightest azure shine. But he didn’t find the hook.

He went home and looked at his favorite sword for a long time. It was a katana of the highest craftsmanship, worth more than half of all Japan. Hoori always talked about his weapon with tears in his eyes, as if it were a child or a dear friend. And yet, his love for his brother was stronger than his love for his weapon. He shattered the katana into a thousand pieces and molded each into a sharp fishing hook that shone in the sun and were strong enough to hook a whale.

But Hoderi was not consoled. No matter what Hoori did and how much he pleaded, Hoderi remained firm: he wanted his hook, and no other.

Hoori grew despondent and spent his days wandering along the shore. The soft susurrus of the waves calmed his troubled heart as they lay themselves by his feet, lapping at his shoes like tame foxes.

He noticed an old man sitting on the beach, throwing pebble after pebble into the pale green waters. Hoori recognized the old man as Shiotsuchi no kami, the God of Tides.

“Why are you so sad?” the old kami asked.

“I lost my brother’s fishhook,” Hoori said. “And he would neither talk to me nor look me in the eye.”

Shiotsuchi nodded and snapped his fingers at the waves. Obedient to his will, they brought him many stems of pliable green bamboo. Fascinated, Hoori watched as the waves reared and spun, shaping the bamboo stems into a giant basket with their watery fingers.

When the bamboo basket was ready, Shiotsuchi helped Hoori into it. “I’ll command the tides to carry you to the palace of the Sea God, Watatsumi no kami. There is a well by the palace, and a katsura tree growing there. Climb into the tree, and you will be taken to Watatsumi no kami. He will be able to help you find the hook, for he is the ruler of all sea creatures.”


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