from Ings & Oughts
Translated from the Russian by Elina Alter
A teacher of literature, a highly spiritual lady, had a husband who was an alcoholic. One day her friend told her: I know this one woman, a psychic, go see her, maybe she can help. So, the literature teacher takes her sad salary and goes to see the psychic. She tells her: so and so, my husband drinks, can you do something. The psychic looks at a photo of the husband and says: he doesn’t have a soul. How’s that? asks the frightened literature teacher. No soul, that’s how, says the psychic. Biomass.
So the literature teacher goes home upset. She tries to chase away these thoughts about the soul. What nonsense, she thinks, everyone has a soul, my husband must have one. How would he be alive, without a soul? It was his soul I fell in love with once, she thinks, not his body covered in hair, not his teeth that are rotting. That’s all fine and well, and the teacher shoos the thoughts away, but the worm of doubt persists, she remembers one thing, another, a third, how he let her down here, pulled some stunt there, said something rude another time, and she sees that in all these situations there’s not a whiff of soul. Sometimes she comes home from work and her husband is lying in front of the TV, drinking beer, or he snores drunkenly at night, or sits scratching his balls and can’t even take the trash out, and she sees it clearly: biomass. No soul. None.
Meanwhile the husband sees that his wife is always upset lately. He thinks it’s because of his drinking. And also the wife’s friend told him that the wife went to see a psychic, to get him to quit. He decides to have an honest conversation with her, explain his position, and put an end to her torment. Masha, he says to her, sit down, let’s talk. They sit. He looks her in the eye and says, I drank, I drink, and I’m gonna keep drinking. She’s silent. He is also silent. Then she stands up and tells him: There is no feeling in your eyes, there is no truth in your replies, and there’s no soul within.
Unto the end be stalwart, heart, and she left her husband. She couldn’t live with a man whose soul was missing. All else being equal, plus a soul, she would have stayed somehow, endured it, but without a soul it’s too much. And the husband was immediately snapped up by the wife’s friend, the one who suggested the psychic. She had been his mistress for many years. But he still drinks like he drank, doesn’t see too big a difference. So the friend goes to the same psychic and says: so and so, my guy drinks, can you do something. The psychic looks at his photo and says: well, he doesn’t have a soul. Biomass. Okay, but can you recommend something for the drinking? asks the wife’s friend. The psychic gives her some herbs to put in his tea, and the wife’s friend goes home satisfied. There being no soul—she didn’t mind that too much. She had loved this man for many years, she loved him to death. And since she loved him to death, the lack of soul didn’t really concern her. The wife’s friend was a simple woman, she didn’t know from souls, but she loved bodies, particularly this man’s.
In this way they lived, and then spring came. Buds bloomed in the trees, young leaves slithered forth, the crowns grew over with a fragrant web of flowers. The literature teacher went to school and taught children those eternal spiritual truths that the great classic writers wrote about. Her soul yearned to rise. Soon she met a man who shared her spiritual yearnings. He was the trainer of the fitness group she had joined. This man was a true guru, he preached a healthy lifestyle and correct nutrition. They started living together, but first he asked her to get rid of her cat, because, he said, man should aspire upward, toward God, and not worship the lower forms of life. The teacher of literature gave the cat to her friend, the same one who now lived with her ex-husband. The friend fed the man and the cat, and made sure they were comfortable and cozy. Her soul did not yearn to rise, but flowed downward in a warm, dim stream, into material things, into matter, which she loved better than the Spirit. The guy drank like before, lay in front of the TV, snored, scratched his balls, but, appreciating the good attitude of his new wife, did take out the trash sometimes. The woman-psychic bought herself a new apartment and car. In general and on the whole they were all happy and lived long, until one day they died, because happiness is achievable, but death is inevitable.