Shumil Pavel
Loves me - loves me not...

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  • © Copyright Shumil Pavel (перевел Strelnikova Olga)
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    (Жестокая сказка N2. Любит - не любит...)

    -- ENGLISH --
    (Translated from Russian by Strelnikova Olga)

    Comment from J. Lockhard

    The action of the story "Loves me - loves me not...", the second of the "Harsh tales" series, takes place in the present-day St.Petersburg. This time the main character - an ordinary Russian guy without any complexes or mental disorders - awaits a totally incredible adventure: a sudden transformation into a woman. The story is full of keen humor and reproduces perfectly the feelings of an ordinary man in fantastic circumstances.

    J. Lockhard


  • .
    
    
    
    
                             (C) Pavel Shumil
    
     Shumilov Pavel Robertovich
                              HomePage: http://dragonbase.nek0.net/index.htm
                              HomePage: http://fan.lib.ru/s/shumil_p
                              HomePage: http://samlib.ru/s/shumil_p
    
    
     (C) Translated from Russian by Strelnikova Olga
     16 November 2007
                              E-mail: strelnikova.olga(at)mail.ru
    
    
    
     []
    HARSH TALES TALE #2 LOVES ME - LOVES ME NOT I felt like a bubble burst inside my head. Mechanically, I made a couple of steps and looked around. I recognized the place, though with difficulty. I looked down and I don't know how I managed to keep my balance. These were not my feet! But the feet do not matter! I was wearing a dress!!! A dark-green women's dress. Yeah-yeah, I thought so too. But to hell with the dress. Anyone can put on a dress. Lord, if You really exist, don't let the terrible happen. I'm going to touch myself, and let everything be in it's place... Mother fucker!!! What's going on, people?! I'm a man! Swear by mother's milk, I'm a man! I felt chilly. My stomach was freezing, as though I have swallowed an ice-cream in one gulp. No, this is a nightmare. I have to figure it out, and everything returns to normal. I look around again and flee to the nearest doorway. I'm hiding like a rat. On the staircase between the first and the second floor I examine and touch myself. I have a woman's breast. Nice, springy breast, though I'm not such an expert in these matters. A real breast. My hair is made in a "pony tail". I have slender legs. Not mine at all, and in panty-hose. But what should be originally mine between the legs... Not there, no trace of it! And no muscles too. And no tooth with a cavity. Instead, I have a woman's handbag on a strap over the shoulder. In short, I became a woman. For thirty years I have been a man, and now I became a woman. I was waking down the street, didn't touch anyone, and then - boom! Hold it. Was I really walking down the street? I don't remember. I remembered only a minute ago, and now I don't. I remember! I was going to a bookstore. But it wasn't here, it was in our block. Then how did I get here? Full of the most terrible presentiments, I'm opening the bag. I find documents. Lomova Galina (*1). So that's me? Lomova? How can I check it? I shake out the contents of the bag on the window-sill. A woman can't go anywhere without a mirror?.. Can she? Got it! Inside the powder-box. And where else? Could have figured that out earlier. And in the most inappropriate moment on the staircase appears a little old woman. "Is anything the matter, sweetheart?" "I have lost... the keys." "But here they are!" "No, these are not the ones." "How will you get home then?" "I'll have to go to my friend to the other end of the city." "And where do you live? I haven't seen you before." "Look here, grandma! Go to... through the woods and through the fields. I feel sick even without you." She left. I'm looking at myself in the mirror and compare the image with the photo on the library pass. Maybe I look alike, and maybe not. The photo is 3 to 4. And in the tiny mirror I can see either an eye or the lips. Hard to make anything out... What else is there in the bag? A thick postal envelope addressed to Galina Lomova. Inside there's a pack of colored photos and a letter. That's me on the photos. I mean the woman, I got into. I have the same dress on. And the face is cute. Exactly what I like. Maybe I've been waiting for a woman just like this for thirty years. And, hell, here she is! "In the morning he became a woman himself..." (*2) Calm down, first thing calm down. So, what do we have? This is no transformation, this is reincarnation. I didn't turn into a woman, my spirit was removed into a woman's body. Galina has lived in this city before, if she has letters written to her. I wonder, what became with my own body. Reincarnation happens after death, isn't it? Shit! Oh, shit! Maybe, a brick has fallen on my head? I didn't even notice how I died. I was walking to the bookstore, and boom - a brick falls on the head! After a stroke on the head you forget the last moments. And here I am. In a woman's body. Know nothing about myself. Don't know where I live, nor whom I live with, nor where I work - nothing. I might go straight to the mental hospital. I can tell that I used to be a man, and all the doctors would pee boiling water from excitement. And in the case history will be written: "Megalomania". No one will ever believe me. No, I don't want to the mental hospital. I'll play Stirlitz. To the end. And if I'm driven into a corner, I'll say I have amnesia. I walked, stumbled, woke up - arm in plaster. (*3) I didn't really calm down, but it became clearer what to do next. To work out my legend. I know who I am. Where do I live? Address! The address on the envelope! So, not bad for a start. I won't have to sleep in the street. Though, maybe, in the street would be better. The best would be in my own apartment, but if I died in the street, the militia (*4) will be there. They'll even have the keys - from the pockets of my own dead body, and I won't have them. And if I died at home, than it's total bummer! What shall I do with the body? I myself will be accused. No, I can't go home. What do people write about me in the letter? "Hi, Galka! (*5) Wow, you look so great on the photos! I even envy you. And Volod'ka wanted to hide one photo for himself. But I told him: "No way! Feast your eyes on me!" You're lucky! Two months of vacation and neither garden, nor farmland to care of! And we work like hedgehogs! All summer! If you get bored come to see us. I'll make you work too. And we'll find a fiance for you. No, Galka, I'm serious, 27 is high time to start a family. Aren't you bored to return home into empty apartment? Men are scary only from the outside. Don't let them too much from the beginning and everything will be just fine! Well that's it! Kisses! Bye!" This was the luck I didn't even hope of! She lives alone, and on vacation! I mean, I live. And I also was on vacation. I look at the address one more time, stuff everything into the bag and head for my diggings. Already outside I thank fate that Galka wears plain shoes, with no heels. I wouldn't bear high-heeled shoes. I find the house easily, and the apartment as well. From the second try I pick the right key. Lock the door, draw curtains on all the windows and hastily examine the apartment. Small, well-attended, two roomed. The rooms are fifteen and ten meters. That's by estimate. Kitchen, bathroom, toilet. Maiden's cell. I rummage in the wardrobe, tear off the dress, the bra, put on a sports suit. Wash all the make-up from my face with soap and water. Wanted to cut the nails short but they appeared to be false. Aren't women disgusted to wear all kinds of trash on their hands? I sweep all the make-up things into a drawer under the mirror. Take off the earrings - away with them. Half an hour later I look more like a human. I didn't wipe off the pedicure. It'll come off itself. I undress completely and look at myself in the mirror. The woman didn't look after herself. Not a bit. About morning exercises she heard only on the radio. Chicken! With flat nails. No biceps, no triceps. There are thighs, though. Maybe she rode a bicycle? I made thirty squattings. The breasts are jumping up and down. That's unusual. She didn't go in for sports. Didn't ride a bicycle, didn't run. White mouse, domestic. At this my body could no longer bear it and burst into crying. I swear, it was my body, not me. I didn't cry so passionately since I was a child. I wanted to stop the process - impossible... I buried my nose in the pillow and burst into tears. Later I changed the bed-clothes, turned over the pillow, so that the head would feel dry, stared into the ceiling and started thinking. About life, about myself. Should I find out what happened to my real body? Of course, I should. But it's very frightful. Until I don't know exactly, there's some hope. And if I find out, that I was run over by a tram - that'll be it! I'll stay in a woman's body for all my life... Does that mean, I'll have to give birth?.. Me, a man? No way. One must prepare oneself for this from childhood. I won't rush, I'll get accustomed first, but then I'll have to be operated for sterilization. Least of all I want to die while giving birth. He gave birth - a one phrase joke. Am I a woman, or still a girl? Twenty seven is too much for a virgin. But I can't be too sure. How can I check it? I don't know were the virginal pleura is. No that's called hymen. Pleura is the thing in the lungs. I should have looked earlier. But the girls I slept with were not virgins... And there were not so many of them... I wasn't good at dating the girls, there's no point in fooling myself. With these thoughts I fell asleep. And in the morning it appeared that I've stained the sheet with blood. I've got my period... Damn it all! Now that's going to last all my life - sanitary pads, tampons, diapers. Or diapers are something different? Sure, they are. There was a pack of sanitary pads in the bathroom. It's good I haven't thrown them away yesterday. In dismal I'm looking at my tear-swollen face in the mirror. Pretty face. Even when tear-stained. I would have liked it. And the breasts are nice. Okay, however it is, but this body is mine now. That means I have to get it fit. This should have been done a long time ago, and the right moment has passed, but even now it can be set straight. This body is twenty seven years old, mine was thirty. Let's say the fate has presented me three years of life. And women live longer, too. At least something good in all this story. I rummage around the apartment, gather in a pile all the documents and money. As for documents - there are plenty, and of money - there could have been more. Aha! Under the cover of a notebook I find hidden fifteen hundred bucks. That'll be enough for a while. I put on the sports suit, running shoes, take a light backpack, a bag and go shopping. First thing to buy some food. Potatoes, four packs of sausages, a pile of meat tins, a couple of cucumbers, each half a meter long, tomatoes, sour cream. What else? I didn't notice if there was salt. Some more will do no harm. Margarine! Six more plastic boxes four hundred grams each. Two round loaves of bread. That's it. Autonomy for a week is provided. Add a couple of packets of milk and kefir - and I can hardly crawl home. All the body aches. Weak body. Milksop. But now everything is in my hands. Second tour is to the sports shop. It takes a long time to choose dumb-bells for my hand. Mine were 12 kg. I brought them from Petrozavodsk. Couldn't find anywhere closer. And there - went to the shop - there they are, waiting for me! Black, shiny! A dream of my hungry childhood. I bought them. Funny and sad. The tourist backpack with a tent, a sleeping bag and all the stuff weighs twenty kilos, and in the hand a small bag with two small dumb-bells weighs 24. The guys laughed at first, then asked to lend them one dumb-bell to use instead of anchor for a fishing boat. And put them furtively into one others backpacks. But this body is too weak. I chose five kilo dumb-bells. To be totally honest, I should have taken the four kilo ones, but I was ashamed to buy so small ones. That's nothing, in two or three months I'll get this body fit and the five kilo ones would be just right. I hardly dragged myself home and fell on the bed. Having rested a little, forced myself to make ten push-ups from the floor and twenty squattings. Everything aches. Damned sanitary pads!!! God, how inconvenient to go to pee! In the morning the eyes are again swollen from tears. My word, that is not me, it's the whining appearance I've got. In daytime everything is normal, under strict control of the mind. I did morning exercises. The muscles are aching after the yesterday's. I've taken too much load. This body is completely unbalanced. The lower part is more or less OK, but everything above the waist is a disgrace! The prelum - there's nothing this word can be used for. The centre of gravity is unusually low. The back muscles are not developed. And everything aches... I started sorting out the documents. Attentively, without hurrying. Like a spy studies his legend. I bought ten cardboard files, arranged all the documents according to the subject, subscribed everything. Peered at the photos for a very long time. I'll have to change the job, that's obvious. The colleagues will expose me in no time. And one would need the professional knowledge. When I got tired of studying the papers, I occupied myself with the clothes. Dresses, skirts... R-rubbish! Maybe I'll get used to it by the time I retire. I counted the cash one more time, measured my waist and hips with a tailor's tape-line and went to a shop. To buy jeans. Prices! Holly mother! A jeans suit costs twice as much as my man's one, though mine was twice as wide in the shoulders. The salesgirl - "you should wear a bra. With a breast like yours, one must wear a bra". I would kill her on the spot. As I went out of the shop I started looking more attentively. The men are really staring. Openly. If I look them in the eyes, they start smiling. With wide and stupid smiles. And my body blushes. How can one explain something to the organism? I came home in deep dismay. My body reacts inadequately at men. It's afraid of them. And I'm afraid too. In my native body I could defeat three men at a time - no sweat. I used to. But in this one - I won't be able to deal with one if it comes to it... No, I'm objective. Of course I have the skills, but for a good punch one must have enough weight. Well developed shoulder girdle. I have nothing of it. All I can do is hit in a jaw with a foot. You might blame me, but I decided to cast a knuckleduster of lead. The plainest one. Without a blade, without spikes. A billet, weighting a kilo and a half, which would sit conveniently on my fingers, nothing else. I've looked all over the apartment, but of all tools I found only a light hammer and nippers of pre-revolutionary times. I looked at the clock, took some more money and went to buy tools, before the shops close. Went out and saw: near the distbin an old car battery lies. Just what I need. I took out the pugs, poured out the acid and started thinking how to drag it home. It was made in soviet times and weighs about one and a half poods (*8). And all covered with acid. And I have a new jeans suit on. And the body is weak. I tied the battery round with a wire and dragged it behind myself, like little children drag toy cars on a rope. "Can I help you, miss?" A guy. Young. In jeans. Smiling widely. Maybe we're acquainted? "You've got a lot of free time?" "Not much, but I have an hour. My name's Yura. And yours?" He's getting informal already. No, it was me who did it first. He told his name that means we aren't acquainted. Now don't forget - my name is Galina. "Galina." I straighten the tired back and cast an estimating glance upon the guy. An ordinary guy. That's me who got smaller... now everyone seems a giant to me. - Listen, Yura, you're too young for me. I'm twenty seven. There's no chance for you. He's already aiming at carrying the battery in a convenient way. "Put it down! It's all in acid. You'll ruin your pants!" "Which way?" "Ok, let's go, if you're asking for it. But keep in mind, that I'm not letting you into my apartment." Poor fellow. Feet far apart. To carry a twenty four kilo weight without clasping it to the shirt - it is hard. Well, he asked for it. "Uh! Galina, forgive me for being too personal, but why would such a pretty girl need a broken battery?" "I need some lead. To cast a knuckleduster." He even stumbled. "You know, I would never believe some other girl. But you I believe. You're all tense. Galina, maybe I can help you? Trust me, confrontations with knuckledusters are not for ladies." "Stupid boy. I used to break bricks with a bare hand in high school. And I need the knuckleduster, so I won't have to kill." "How come?" "If I show you my fist, will you be scared? See. And I can knock you out with this very fist in two seconds." I looked at my fist - and felt funny myself. "And the knuckleduster?" "To show the seriousness of my intentions." "And if they don't believe you?" "That means the dead man was a fool." I'm saying this already in the elevator. Yura's holding his load with his last bit of strength. He might drop the battery on my foot any minute. "You are a dangerous woman." With relief he's putting the battery down at the doors of my apartment and looks at his dirty hands. "Don't you wipe them off your pants. Come in, wash your hands and get out!" "And the battery?" "To the bathroom. Under running water." While he washes himself in the bathroom, I clean my hands in the kitchen. Mechanically I cast a glance in the mirror, bite my lips, to make them redder. I swear, that's not me, the body does it itself. A reflex. Yura, wiping the hands, peeps into the room. I also look over the room with a glance of a stranger. A moderate degree of chaos. Sporting suit on the table, above - the hammer with the nipples, dumb-bells in the corner. I take the towel from the boy, turn him round and push him to the door. "That's it. Get out. I have to go to a shop." In the elevator Yura makes another attempt. "Galya, (*6) I'm leaving for three days. What are you doing eh... Saturday night? "I don't know, Yura. I don't know a thing. Ciao!" I spent almost all day on the knuckleduster. At first I wanted to carve a model out of wood, but it was too much trouble. Made it of foam plastic. That's even better. Foam plastic is soft, and if you press it harder, obtains the form of the hand. I glued the bits with PVA glue. Cut the rough edges with a razor blade - the knuckleduster was lovely! Just for my little fist. I coated the model with margarine, dissolved gypsum, made a molding form. In a big tin I fused the lead over the gas, poured it in the form. The first molding I ruined. The margarine started burning away, and in the molding appeared bubbles and cavities. But the second one was great. I sawed off the taphole, scraped off the irregularities with a knife. Masterpiece! Begging to put it on the hand. On my hand! The knuckles are covered, each finger in its groove. No one will even be able to put my knuckleduster on. Unless he is a ten-year-old boy. I looked at this beauty, sighed and started all over. The thing appeared to be too big. Such can be worn only in a bag. And the bag can be snatched out first thing. On the other side, a handbag on a long strap with a knuckleduster inside is not a bad weapon by itself. I made another knuckleduster. An ordinary flat leaden thing with four holes for fingers. No aesthetics, no architectural luxuries. A plain jawbreaker. Doesn't evoke any pleasant emotions, but provides the feeling of security in our dangerous time. And in the pocket it feels as though the pocket was made for it. And now the most unpleasant thing. I cannot put it off any longer. I have to find out what has happened to me. Maybe I'll have to bury myself. If I'm lucky, I can pass myself off as my own girlfriend and organize the funeral to my taste. Give the belongings to the friends, some trifles keep for myself. It would be easy to convince my friends. I haven't forgotten the details of my own biography yet. I'm trying to convince myself, that everything is right, but the feeling is loathsome. And with every step I want to turn back more and more. Imagine, now I get up to my floor and the apartment is sealed. What shall I do? Go to the militia? And why not? They would be only glad to pass the funeral to someone else. But when there are only a few steps left to the doorway, a light turns on in my windows. The feet change direction themselves and carry me to the entrance of the next house. I go up to the fifth floor and sit down on the window-sill. A female James Bond. In the apartment there is me. The old me. I'm putting a kettle on the stove, switch on the TV, look for something on the bookshelf. And the other me, Galina Lomova, sobs quietly on the window-sill. There was no death, no reincarnation. My mind in some mysterious way has split in two and displaced the mind of Galina Lomova. There's no way back. The body is occupied, I'm not welcome in that body. I have to get used to my new sex. I drag home like a beaten dog. I don't remember how undressed, and for the third night running soak my pillow with tears. Has it happened to someone before? Maybe I'm not the only man like this. Not the only woman - now I must call myself. And who will ever confess? Do I want to confess? Even under a torture I won't. If I find other victims, they will help. But how can I find them? In what way must they differ from ordinary people? They must have suddenly changed their way of life and profession. Or got into a nut-house for some time. No, I don't want to deal with those who got into nut-house. And how do I know the addresses of those who have changed profession? I am not personnel department? And what if I'm wrong? Expose myself to a normal? To an engineer, who has changed his job to lathe operator, to earn more money? It is I that will get to a nut house that very moment. There's one man that will not give me away! That's me! Sergey Varanov. Working, single with his own apartment. Nobody will be surprised if in a flat of a thirty-year-old guy will often come a twenty-seven-year-old girl, who looks twenty five. And I will help myself. I only must convince myself that I've split. And I shouldn't be afraid of myself. I won't force to sex. Not in my nature. There will be time to think about it. We'll think together. I won't leave myself in trouble, will I? The raindrops battling on the window-sill. The muscles are aching. All the shoulder girdle. The prelum hurts too. Or is it inside? With this woman's body you never know. I have to cook. If I get married - I'll have to cook for two? Nightmare... I make myself to get up and moaning aloud, work out with the dumb-bells. I should have taken the four kilo ones. Greediness killed the cat. I wash the dishes, collected in the sink, peel the potatoes, prepare a saucepan of soup. The largest saucepan that can be put into the fridge. Enough for a week. But all this is just to kill time. It's time to go to meet myself, but I'm very scared. That's why I'm finding more things to do. To clean the room, to sweep the floor... Enough! It's time. I put on a cloak and go out in the rain. Drizzling, nasty autumn rain. And this skunk is not at home. I ring the doorbell for a very long time, then occupy an observation post in the opposite porch. Sooner or later he'll be back. It's getting dark. Is it possible that he went away? He couldn't have. He has business here. The one I took a vacation of two months running. Shit! I have forgotten about this. This business will work against me now. Hard to think of anything worse. Maybe he hasn't yet... Light turns on in my windows. Then in the kitchen. So he was at home! Didn't want to open the door. I'm a filthy jackal! And what if I'm not alone in there? I run up the stairs to the fifth floor. Occupy my observation post. And exactly in that moment the light turns off. While I'm wondering what to do, he comes out of the door. With my box in his hands... Walking past the garbage bin he throws it negligently. My collection! Which I have gathered for twenty years! I roll down the stairs, get the box out, wipe the raindrops by my sleeve. To throw my women into the garbage! With a negligent gesture! What's going on?! The raindrops strike in the face, washing off the tears. I feel empty and cold inside. If he has thrown away my women, then nothing of me is left in him! All of my mind was transferred into this body. And over there is an empty shell. A walking zombie! But maybe something is left. I can't be absolutely sure that I remember everything about myself. But the main thing is not there. The thing that made me myself is no longer in that body. It was already described in fiction. A man is split into two parts. In one only the good, in the other - the bad. Which one do I have now? He didn't want open the door to me - is it good or bad? No, ours is a different case. The division is between the male and the female parts. Is it better or worse? At home I take off the wet cloak, put it on a coat-hanger above the bath-tub. The jeans suit is wet too. I change into the sports one. I comb my wet hair, drink fifty grams of vodka to get warm and open the box. Here they are - my women. Press-cuttings, postcards, photographs. The very-very best. Here's a girl with a dolphin. The mask is moved to the forehead, a happy smile, showing all thirty two teeth and the dolphin smiles back. Emerald, transparent water. The next is a bicycle ad. This girl has obviously never ridden a racing bicycle. She has to switch the speed, and the photographer has caught the preoccupied look on her face. A gymnast before the jump. She's already there in the flight. Doesn't see nor hear anything around. The very first, slow step of the run. And here's a company of girls on the beach playing ball. A huge red and blue ball, and the all clothes the girls are wearing are the bands, holding their hair. Character dancing. She's young, dazzling in her bright-red dress. The partner is a senior man in severe brown suit. Each of my women is special in something. The very best. If you see such in the street - you'll turn round for sure. And maybe the photographer has made them so special. What's the difference? But why throwing them away? Even if only ten, even five percent of me is left in that body I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't have done that. I dart off, hastily put on a cold jeans suit. I hardly manage to push my arms through the wet, bonded sleeves of the raincoat. I put on a black wide-brimmed hat to cover my wet hair. A street, a car, a thrilled face of the driver. It seems to him that he is part of some detective story. I don't want to disappoint the guy, so I get out of the bag my knuckleduster, try it on and put it back. "Stop here," - I handle him ten rubles more than the asked for. "Miss, I think you have chosen a wrong type of job. Maybe I can be of some help?" "You haven't seen me, and I haven't seen you. Off you go." Men tack on me like flies on jam. And me? Why am I playing? To get rid of my anxiousness. To pass my nervous trembling on to him. This guy will never forget me. He'll be telling to his friends how he gave a lift to an Amazon with a knuckleduster. I push the button of the doorbell. He doesn't want to open again. I make three short rings, and three long ones, then three short ones. Three short ones, three long ones, three short ones. Cautious steps in the corridor. "Who is it?" Character feature. I've never asked through the door. "Lomova Galina. Or Sergey Varanov." The lock clicks hastily. I shut the door behind me, lean my back against it and look at this tall guy with trembling lips. "Hello, Galina," - I say. "I'm Sergey. We are really in trouble." "... to change jobs?" "Why, yes! You bring me to my office, tell everyone that you quit and that you've found a substitute. Than we'll go to your office. Each will keep his old job. What do you think?" "Do you think we'll stay like this forever?" We're standing in front of the mirror. Here am I - me. And by my side - a girl. Now I will shut my eyes closely and when I open them it will be true... Keep dreaming. And this one in my body... A cry-baby! To see a guy a foot taller than me sniveling and smearing tears on his cheeks is disgusting. That's why the guy gets a punch on his side. "Don't you disgrace my body, cry-baby!" "Me-e!.. Why?" "Oh, you're a disaster! Learn to be a man." "Will you help me?" "How the hell can I get away from it?" Everything's clear. I'll have to be the leader in this pack. The inconsistence between my body and the shy, scared girl inside it is amazing. Honestly, I'm scared too. All the things in the apartment seem huge. Almost half as big again as they used to be. Outside I didn't feel it so acutely. Only in the underground train it was hard to reach the hand-rail. "Listen to me carefully. It happened. You don't like it, neither do I. But that's a fact. You're a man, I'm a woman, get it? Learn to think about yourself like a man, behave like a man. Otherwise we'll get into nut house. Both of us. "I will try. Please, don't be angry." Until late at night we shower each other with questions. About the bodies' features, about friends and acquaintances, about habits. When we start falling asleep, I get from the farther corner of the wardrobe an air mattress and a sleeping bag. "Inflate it." "And where's the pump?" asks this tall guy. "Do it with your mouth. Eighteen breaths into the large pillow, six into the small one. Your body has done this a hundred of times. Stop! Not like this. Don't strain yourself. Just draw a deep breath through the nose and calmly breathe out into the mattress. You don't have to strain your every nerve." The mattress is inflated. We toss a coin to clarify who is going to sleep on the bed under the blanket, and who - on the floor like a hiker. It came for me to sleep on the floor. I switch off the light. I close my eyes tight and keep saying to myself: "I'm a woman, I'm a woman. My name's Galina. I'm a woman." "Sergey..." "What? Whom did you call Sergey?!" "Ok, sorry. Do you take your panties off when you sleep?" "Women have panties. Man have pants. Do as you like. It's your body now. And stop calling me Sergey. Get used to Galina." "My friends called me Galka." "That's it. Sleep." Silence. Green reflected light of the electronic alarm clock on the ceiling. I'm a woman, a woman. My name's Galina. Galya. I'm a woman... "Gal..." (*7) "What?" "The thing that happened to us it's something that cannot be. It's like a fairy tale..." "So?" "If the illness is fairy then the cure should be..." "Well, keep talking." "Well, it's like the prince woke up the sleeping beauty..." "With a kiss?" "Or something more serious... Fairy tales are for children. Life is harsh. But when we join together... we'll become one... And then split apart. Maybe, our souls will figure out which body is which?" "Nonsense!" "Yes-yes." "Such things do not happen in real life. This is no fairy tale." "But... Yes, it's not a fairy tale." She's going to cry again. She'll get my body accustomed to tears. How can I make a man out of her? To hell... I'm a woman, I'm a woman, I'm a woman. Oh, I won't become a woman for a long lime... Stop! But it turns out that...?! "Sergey, I'm not gay." "And I'm not a lesbian! Idiot!" Offended her. "I'm sorry. That's all nerves." I'm a woman, a woman... "... up, apart, up, apart. Forward, down, forward, up!" "It's hard..." "You should do exercises every day, then it won't be hard. Put down the dumb-bells, now - push-ups from the floor. Thirty times. Go!" "Galya, you mustn't do that." "Why not?" "You have such period." "What?" "Well... menstruation. If you lift weights, you can get into hospital." "Oh, God! If I knew that earlier... But you have no period. Start. I'm going to count." ... "Gal'... I can't go on!" "Stop talking! You're going to pamper my body! I do fifty push-ups." "Ugh... You, men, are all crazy." "Stop talking. Get up, undress and go to the bathroom! It's time to shower." "Turn away." "Fool! Do you think I haven't seen my own body?" "Then undress yourself!" A logical demand. I take off the clothes, we look at each other - and both blush. I slap this bull on the buttocks and push him to the bathroom, turn the cold water on. We both scream. Me - obviously. This body is not trained. But why is he screaming? Merrily, joking we rub each other with a double blanket. Suddenly he has erection. I've never seen such a surprised face. "Well, well! Don't you do anything silly," I say with a tone of a detective agent and laughing run out of the bathroom. "Ga-al... How do I calm him down?" follows a piteous voice from the bathroom. "He'll calm down himself. Get used to it!" I half-open the door and pass the pants through the clink. We have breakfast in the kitchen. Sergey cooks wonderfully. And in general, everything's wonderful, but for the weather outside. Why so? Maybe it's the relaxation after three days of hopeless depression. I see the light of hope now. I'm not alone. And Sergey is not alone. We can give tips to each other if we need them. "Galya, put your knees together, please." "Why?" "You're sitting... indecently." "A-ah... I see. Where were we? We're going to live here." "Why not in my place?" "This apartment is larger. And the ceilings are higher. Now we'll go there, take some things and start settling here. And that apartment we can give for rent." "Galya, do you think we're stuck forever in these bodies?" "I don't know. But I'm not going to give you away, chicken, to anyone." "You're a chicken, yourself" snarls Sergey sheepishly. Unbelievable inconsistence between the body and the character. "Righteous. I'm a chicken, and your duty is to protect me. From bullies!" I willingly agree, eating the sandwiches heartily. Sergey looks at me lovingly. Can he have a crush on me? And in me must have awoken maternal instincts? This is not love. Love is not like this. Let it be! Whatever it is, instinct or friendship, we have to live together. We leave the apartment of Galina Lomova loaded with suitcases. Of course, Sergey carries the suitcases. I, waving the handbag, explain to him that now it'll always be like this. He's got this hard lot - to be the stronger sex. Towards us drags a wet, cheerless being with a huge tourist backpack behind the shoulders and a bunch of fishing rods and spoon-baits in the hand. The wet, sagging brims of the hat almost cover the face. "Don't stoop, straighten your shoulders," I whisper to Sergey, rummaging in the bag. The person came alongside with us. "Yura! Hi!" The person tears sullen glance from the road and breaks into a smile. "Ah, Galya!" "Please, meet Sergey. And this is Yura." Both are terribly embarrassed and shake hands uncertainly. "Yur, you were going to fish for three days. Was it the weather?" "The weather..." Yura sighs heavily. "And how are you?" "Great! Here!" unexpectedly shove the knuckleduster under his nose. Take it off my fingers, toss it on the palm and hand to him. "Wow! Professional..." Yura admires the knuckleduster holding the fishing rods under the armpit. "It's a bait," I say carelessly and get the second one out of the pocket. "And here is the working one." "Galya, you're the most dangerous person I know." "I know," I laugh. "Be happy!" After making ten steps I turn round. Yura is still following us with his eyes. I winkle at him. "Galya, why do you need a knuckleduster?" asks Sergey gloomily. "I thought, you'll ask about Yura." "Please, answer to me, what do you need the knuckleduster for?" "What for? So I won't be afraid of big guys like you, when I take a walk in the evening. It's your fault by the way. Have you ever heard about body building? No, I'm not talking about the sport. Sport is too much, it's for medals. Have you ever done simple morning exercises? Do you even know such word - aerobics? If you've ever worked out, I wouldn't have to walk with a knuckleduster in my pocket!" "I've done morning exercises!" Oh, my God! He feels hurt. Even the lower lip is trembling. "Calm down. Now you're going to work out under my keen guidance. We'll take a run every evening. Six or eight kilometers." "At least I'll be able to run them. But you are going to fall down after two kilometers and won't get up. Green-eyed scorpion!" Thanks God, he started joking. "... this is pornography." "A Puritan! Where do you see pornography? There's sensuality I agree. They keep such things in Hermitage, why cannot I? This is art. And you had no right to throw them away!" "Then you didn't have the right to spend my money!" "Your money?! Whose apartment is that?!!" "I'm telling you the same..." says Sergey quietly, and I no longer want to argue. He's right, and I'm not. "But anyway, you could have waited for some time, before throwing other peoples' things away." "Galya, I'm sorry." There, how can one argue with such... person? This is not the weakness of character, as I thought at first. It's just the sweet temper... I'll have to harden him. We'll go hiking! We both have two months of vacation. We can rent a boat in Priozersk. We'll first row down the Vuoka. I'll see what he's can do. Then we'll go down to the Ladoga. I'll try his strength on real waves. I take out the map and tell him my plan. As I expected, I see no enthusiasm. I should try the diplomacy. "You have to learn to be a man. Right?" "Right." "Where is the best place to do it? In the city, where people are looking at you everywhere or in the woods?" He keeps silence. Well, that's fine. Silence is the sign of agreement. "Galya, how did you know that I - I mean you, were on vacation?" "From the letter." "What letter?" "It was in the handbag." I search in the handbag, but there's no letter. I must have put it in one of the files with documents. "The letter from your friend with a dacha (*9) and a husband. There were also photos of you. In the green dress." "Oh, Ga-alya... I put on the green dress three times in my life! In the shop when I tried it on and then I wore it for two days... And no one took pictures of me. Do you remember from whom was that letter?" "No-o." "You dolt!" "But there was no name! I remember every word of it! And no return address. Only some squiggle instead. I know! The name of your friend's husband is Volod'ka! It said: "Volod'ka wanted to hide one photo for himself"." Sergey reflected on something for a long time. Then the sprang up. "Galka, take a pencil, some paper, and write down every detail that you remember from the letter." "What for?" "You write, I'll explain later." While I wrote, he searched for something in the papers in the drawer where I keep the receipts of the payment of public utilities. Then he straddled a chair and read my scribble twice. He nodded. "That's right." "What?" I couldn't hold it. "Do you like detective stories?" "No." "And I do." "I know." "How come?" "You have three bookshelves stuffed with them." "That's right... Listen, I also had a letter in my pocket! And also without names." "So what?" "What do you mean - so what? A letter with photos, so I would know where I lived, that I was on vacation, and that I have two free months ahead. Just like you did. What is it? Does it mean anything?" "It does. But I don't know what." "And the fact that the letter disappeared?" "Like in Fantomas?" (*10) "No. Completely. It vanished - that's it. Look, we need to check the apartment for bugs." "And cockroaches! You read too many detective stories." "And you don't want to notice obvious things. And someone's watching us now!" "And the letters?" "The letters were to keep us from getting into a nut-house! I was already going to a hospital. I would have told them that I hit my head and don't remember anything. Neither the name nor address. Let them figure it out. And then I read the letter and decided to wait a little. Maybe it will be over by itself." At this moment I felt scared. More scared than when I became a woman. Because I believed. Because the facts all fitted like cartridges to a charger. "But what do they want from us?" Sergey knitted his brow. "And what are we doing now? They did a terrible thing to us, and we are trying to remain ourselves. To live like normal people." "They are studying our reactions - that's how it's called in science. We are mice in a maze. Let's go!" "Where to?" "A secret place." Sergey lifts his brows surprisingly, then nodded and puts on his shoes. I get from the mezzanine a powerful battery torchlight, a monkey wrench and lead Sergey to the second floor. There lives Tolik, a friend of mine since school times. Now he's in his dacha, but I have the key from his apartment. "Give me the keys." Sergey hands me the bunch. I open the door, put some of Tolik's clothes into a bag. "Let's go." We go down to the basement. In the basement we have a bomb shelter. Maybe it remained from the last war, maybe build in case of an atomic one. A good, warm and dry bomb shelter. I know all the basements in the district since childhood. I imagined myself a speleologist there. With the monkey wrench turn the heads of four bolts of the thick iron door. Sergey turns on the torchlight. I close the door behind me and push the switch. The light turns on. "Get undressed," I tell to Sergey and first take of my clothes. Tolik's shirt looks like a dress on me. And the trousers almost reach the armpits. With Sergey it's on the contrary. The sleeves do not cover the elbows. I put our clothes in the bag, and the bag itself - in the corner, under a bench and lead Sergey into the next room behind another steel door. "Ok, now you can talk." "Do you think they can't intercept us here?" "Not today. Even if there were bugs in our clothes, they are left behind the door. Tomorrow They might figure out something, but today - there's hardly a chance. And if they are listening to us even now, than it's total shit, and we shouldn't think about it." Then we made suppositions for almost an hour. With aliens and without, with malicious intent and without. Against us and against the whole mankind... For the good of the mankind... And then Sergey said: "This is all fiddlesticks." "Why?" "Because we have no proof. Without the proof all of these are just words." Still, it's cold in the basement. I snuggled up closer to him and put his hand to my waste. He wouldn't think of doing it himself. And this body is trying to turn me into a molly. Well, let it be. I won't resist it. "Where am I going to find proof for you?" "Galka, together we're a team. I'll do all the thinking, and you are a specialist in field work." "I was before you moved into my body." "Fool, you didn't get it. When you're going to need muscles, call me. I'm a theorist and you are a practical person. Take this basement, I wouldn't think of it for the world." "I'm persuaded. What should I do, chief?" "Think! We don't know who has sent the letters, right?" "Right." "Let's dig deeper. Why did you take two vacations in a row?" "I took one for this year and the other for the previous one." "And why did you take them two in a row?" "Then I was a MAN! And why I did that is none of your business." "That's silly. We won't come to anything if we hide facts from each other. I can say honestly that I TOOK two vacations because I applied to a matchmaking agency. And they made such a term: two months of honeymoon. To get used to my future husband. Otherwise the marriage will be unstable, and they can't guarantee anything." I even jumped up. Because a month ago I also applied to a matchmaking agency. And they laid down the same stupid condition. And before that they made me take all kinds of computer tests, took my encephalogram and analysis. The agency seemed very serious to me. A respectable office. And the prices - forty bucks if they won't be able to find a partner for me and two hundred if they will. I didn't fool myself about my chances. I didn't get married before thirty, I'm no angel, and I don't want to lose my time courting girls. I would agree to have a housekeeper. It's a pity that they went extinct since 1917. "Did you take computer tests?" Sergey nods. "And gave analysis?" another nod. "And there was nothing more unusual in my last half a year," he anticipates my next question. "It's them! I'm sure it's them!" "I think so too. What shall we do now?" "And what do you propose?" "Cunning girl! Now it's your turn!" rebels Sergey. "I have found you a target, haven't I?" "We should search their office. When we find out what they are, we'll decide what to do with them. And we can't put it off! Tomorrow they will be on their guard. We'll go tonight." "Yes, chief!" "And before that we'll write our wills and mail them to Tolik. If anything happens to us, he'll report to proper authorities! And our disappearance will prove the seriousness of the case!" "Here can be some alternatives" contemplates Sergey. "Ok, let it be, we can't think of anything better in such haste." I don't like the way Sergey's behaving. He's frowning, biting his lips. And he's passive. I have to do all the preparation by myself. If I shove some clothes into his hands and tell where to sew a secret pocket to it, he does it. And freezes again. When I started putting screwdrivers, knives and files into the pockets, Sergey couldn't stand it. "Galya, I won't take the knife. And, please, leave the knuckleduster at home. I beg you earnestly." He says that aloud. A fucking conspirator. I drew him into the bathroom, turned the water on, and told him everything I thought. He keeps silence, bites his lips and looks down. "Don't keep silent, speak." "We're going to reconnaissance. I won't kill anyone." "Do you think I am going to kill? And what if the mankind is in danger?" "All the same. We don't know for sure. Maybe it's something different..." "When they catch us, screw our heads off, then we'll see if it's something different, or not. And now we should prepare for the worst." We argued for a very long time, and finally she persuades me to use force only for self defense. Everything's fine, we have agreed in everything, and at this moment this tall guy starts crying. A women's hysterics. And I have to calm him down. That's also and interesting effect. I stroke his head and his back, say some tender words. I've never said such words in my life. And now they're coming from the heart. At last I comforted him. To my own misfortune. "Galya, when you were a guy, did you have girls?" "I did, Serezha. (*11) You're not a boy." "And I didn't..." We-ell. That means I'm a virgin. "Galya, maybe we're going to die out there. You..." he stopped. And I sat on the edge of the bathtub and thought. As he did earlier. I'm afraid to lose my virginity, but the fact that we can die is not a joke. And if they catch me there and rape, then it's better to do it with Sergey. Maybe that will make a man out of him. And then I understood what he was up to. In his soul he's still a girl. An idealist. She's waiting for her prince, and is hoping for a miracle. In short, the scheme of the sleeping beauty. After we have sex, each will become himself. And we won't have to go anywhere... I looked into his eyes and saw such hope inside them, that my heart trembled. After all, what am I to lose? I guess, the loss of virginity won't hurt more then a punch in the jaw. We were going to live together, anyway. A day sooner, a day later... I smile at him, touch his cheek with my palm affectionately. "Well, what are you waiting for? Take me in your arms and carry to the nuptial bed." Oh, my god! I, an innocent girl, have to play the part of the active partner. To undress myself and to undress this sissy. I'm also the one to switch off the light. He couldn't even put on the condom himself. Oh, God! He lied down on his back and closed his eyes. And he's all shivering. He used to be a girl, and he has remained a girl. And I'm scared myself. When I take a look at his device my knees are trembling. Finally I warmed him up. Explained, who was the man here. But I got awfully nervous myself. Totally. Hands shaking, knees trembling. Scary and sweet. "Au-u!" This is not like a punch in the jaw. This is like a punch in the nose. It hurts to tears. And afterwards it's painful too. No pleasure. But later, when he started petting... This was worth it... And Serezha plunged into frustration again. He took my virginity and all in vain. In short, a woman's hysterics again. I had to slap him on his cheeks, and then console him. Then let him do it again. Honestly it was easier the second time. But at this the woman's nature of my body couldn't bear it. And burst into tears. And at this moment we both in tears and sniveling finally united completely. But no miracle happened. Depressed, we dragged into the bathroom, washed each other, for a while we stood hugging each other under the shower. It appeared, I also hoped for the miracle very much. Maybe even more than he did. I didn't believe in it, but I hoped. "It's time," said I. "Time to get going." Then I summoned my courage, forced myself to smile and said: "And when we come back, we should do it again!" Serezha's face lighted up. Men need so little to be happy. We managed to catch the last bus. Got out two blocks before the office of the matchmaking agency. Walked for half an hour to be on the safe side. In case there's a night watchman there - so that he could fall asleep soundly. The rare passers-by paid no attention to us. A common couple in love. Well, actually, this is true. I'll strangle anyone for Serezha's vulnerable soul. No, I don't have enough strength to strangle anyone. I'll scratch the eyes out. The drizzling rain stopped at last. "It's time," I said again. We entered the nearest building, took the wet raincoats off, rolled them carefully and shoved into a dark corner under the staircase. I threw a wet newspaper to cover them. I hope no one will find them till morning. Now Serezha was wearing a black suit and dark-brown sweater, and me - a jeans suit and a black sweater with high collar. If I pull the collar on the face, I will need no mask. Only my eyes will be seen from under the fringe. We hugged tighter, kissed, just in case... and kept doing it for half an hour at least. "Serezha," I warned him, "whatever happens to us, don't be scared, agreed? We are immortal! OK? And if you don't know what to do, look at me and do the same. Without thinking. Just do it - and that's it." "I'll try," he says timidly. He comports himself well. Very well for a former girl. Only his hand's trembling. To be honest, mine, too. "Hold closer to me and everything will be just fine," I instructed him for the last time. The office of the matchmaking agency was located in an old wing in the middle of an old park, but inside almost everything was decorated according to modern European standards. One doesn't even have to open the front door. It glides aside automatically. Like in foreign films or airports. We entered the park through a hole in the iron fence and, hiding behind the trees, walked around the building. My heart missed a beat. "Serezha!" I whispered loudly. "Here's the place, where I was in those photos. That's that very bench." "One to zero in our favor," replied Sergey oddly. As I expected, there was also a door at the back. And I understood that we won't be able to open that door. I mean without a crow-bar and a sledge-hammer. The door was old and solid, and the three steps which led to it were overgrown with moss. And all this was lighted by a lamp and viewed by a camera of a security service. A respectable office. "Oh, crap," said Serezha. "What?" "The camera." I understood that it was a swear-word. He just couldn't say anything stronger than "crap". I came to the house in a way so I wouldn't be viewed by the camera and started digging the windows with a screw-driver. All of them were locked. "Don't you think that's strange," asked Sergey. "What?" "The back door is guarded with a camera, and there's not even a lamp at the front door." Checking all the windows in a row I went up the three steps before the front door. With a quiet humming the door glided into a wall. I immediately hammered the screwdriver under it, so that it couldn't close and pulled the collar of the sweater on my face. The second door was a usual wooden one with a glass in it. Without a lock. It was closed with a spring. At daytime it was opened completely and retained with a hook, so it wouldn't close. We looked around the lobby. The porter's booth was empty. Dim light of a lamp in a corner above the phone. And no one. Behind our backs the front door hummed by its engines, trying to close. It hummed for a while - and stopped. We opened the second creaky door carefully and sneaked on our tip toes to the porter's booth. Empty. And there's no usual sofa for the porter. Sergey squeezed my hand so tightly that I almost screamed and showed him my fist. And then I noticed the scheme of emergency evacuation on the wall. I poked with my finger at the registration. Sergey shook his head and pointed at the director's office on the second floor. As soon as we entered the corridor of the second floor, the light turned on gently. And only ahead of us. I took Sergey's hand and leaded him forward. The light turned on before us and switched off as we passed. "Automatics," whispered Sergey. I laid my hand on the door handle of the director's room, and turned the handle. Locked. But when I already let it go, sounded a deadly-loud clink and quiet buzzing of a powerful actuator. I pushed the handle again. The door opened. Sergey took the pliers out of his pocket and hammered them under the door hinge, so that the door couldn't be shut. As I crossed the threshold, the light turned on. An ordinary director's waiting room. A secretary's table with a computer, fax-telephone on the chest, a couple of telephones on the table and a conference communication selector. "Strange," whispered Sergey. "What?" He had no time to answer. Because from somewhere under the ceiling sounded a pleasant, well made-up baritone of a professional announcer: "Good evening, Galina. Good evening, Sergey. We are glad to see you together. Come into the office and feel yourselves at home. If you wish there's coffee and a coffee machine in the lower section of the bar. There's also sugar there. Unfortunately, we're out of milk. A little above there's a selection of vine you can chose from. I must confess we expected you tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. But I've already woken up the professor and he'll be here in about twenty minutes." "Can you hear us?" I asked. "Of course." "And if we don't want to talk with professor?" "Shall I call a taxi for you?" I exchanged glances with Sergey. "Of course, you can come here in daytime," continued the voice. "But that will be somehow rude. I woke up a respected man in the middle of the night, he'll come here, and you're already gone." "I'll leave him a note," I blurted out. "Also a way out," agreed the voice with a deep sigh. I don't know what got into me. I scribbled hurriedly on a piece of paper: "Tomorrow at noon", grabbed Sergey's hand and rushed out. As though demons were chasing me. With great rumble we rolled down the stairs, rushed through the corridor and ran out into the garden. Nobody stopped us. And then I pressed my face to the wet bars of the fence near the saving hole and gulped air with my mouth. Sergey dawdled behind my back and mumbled something ludicrous. Everything wasn't right, not like it should be. Like in a nightmare. What were we thinking when we broke into the house? Two idiots. Who read too much cheap fantastic and detective stories. And then the rays of headlights struck our eyes. The car whirled by and with the squeak of the brakes stopped at the gates and beeped the horn twice. The gates opened. Already slowly the car reached the steps of the front door. "I'm very sorry, Eduard Alekseevich, (*12) but the young people have already left," I heard the familiar baritone, amplified by a loud speaker. "It was you who scared them!" "For goodness sake, Eduard Alekseevich, how could I? They even left a note for you." "A note? And what is that?" the professor bended down and pulled out the screwdriver, with which I jammed the door. "Will you finally turn on the light!" The next moment the facade of the house was illuminated by searchlights hidden in the park. The professor stooped, examining the ground near the porch. "Don't deny, Yakov Vasil'evich! You scared them! The young people ran away. Call them tomorrow morning, apologize and settle an appointment. No, visit them personally and lead here by the hand." "Eduard Alekseevich, tomorrow will be my day after a nightshift. I have a right for a day off by KZOT." (*13) "And don't argue. Personally. By the hand." "Let's go," whispered Serezha, squeezed my hand and dragged me to the brightly illuminated facade. I nearly screamed. His hand is some bone-crusher. Like this we came under the light of the searchlights - hand in hand. We came out, but it must have taken the whole of Sergey's courage. "Good evening, Eduard Alekseevich," I said loudly. "I have a couple of very acute questions to you." "... another cup of coffee?" We exchange glances with Sergey and nod simultaneously. Everything around is a bit unreal, very cozy... and I feel drowsy. Even the coffee doesn't help. The whole idea seems foolish and boyish now. To break into an unknown place at night, without a clear purpose, armed with hammers, knives and screwdrivers... What could have happen if there was a real security guard with a pistol here... "Eduard Alekseevich, don't you think that all this is beyond the verge of possible?" "I'm sorry, young people, but how should I call you? By your old or new names?" "Galina Victorovna," I introduce myself. "There's no reason to cling to the male name if I became a transsexual." "Well, there's no problem with that. Give me an hour - and you'll be in your old bodies. We can do it right now. But first we'd better talk." "Yes, please," agrees Sergey suddenly. "And what would happen to us if we ran away?" "Practically the same," smiles the professor. "The personality of the carrier is now deactivated. Simply speaking, it's sleeping. But it can't sleep for long. In one an a half, maybe two months, it will awake and absorb the foreign personality. I've experienced that myself and I can assure you: there's nothing dreadful in it." For some reason I didn't believe the last phrase. "You mean, that if we get up and leave now, we will become ourselves anyway?" "Yes, Sergey. But you will remember that in your body for some time lived Galina Victorovna." "And if?" he nods to the machine in the corner. "In that case Galina Victorovna will remember that she used to live in Sergey's body for some time. The choice is yours." We exchange glances again. "The machine," - I say. "That's reasonable," nods the professor. "Eduard Alekseevich, but there was no machine in the street. How?.." I can't find the right word. "How did you become a girl in the middle of the street?" "Yes." "Hypnosis. Simple hypnosis. You have become a girl here. Over there you only woke up and you have thrown away the letter with photos following the planted command. These photos could arouse you memories, that's why we had to get rid of them after they have performed their duty. Now, young people, answer the most important question. Are you going to get married?" "We already have..." - I say and blush. "Strictly speaking, I meant... something different," - now the professor himself is embarrassed. "But you gave an irrefragable answer. You surpass the forecasts in every parameter. Amazingly quick adaptation. Especially in your case, Galina Victorovna. Aunt Sonya (*14) was simply astonished." I blink. "I don't know any aunt Sonya." "Aunt Sonya is our psychologist. She was the one who secured you the first minutes after you woke up. You immediately made up a story about the keys, remember?.. You told her to get off so poetically... through the woods and through the fields." "The old lady," - recall I. My cheeks are burning red. "Galina Victorovna!" the professor raises his hands in joking indignation. "How dare you! Aunt Sonya is a real sports woman. She skies. So, where was I? Yes, the financial matter! You, young people, will have to sign your labour contracts post factum. You are employed as researchers-investigators for a term of two months." "And if we don't want to sign the contract?" I ask suspiciously. "If you don't sign it, the old one remains valid. You pay in compliance of the contract. Two hundred dollars each according to the current rate of exchange. If you sign it, you get a salary of five hundred dollars a month. Also according to the current rate of exchange. The only thing you have to do is a detailed report to the psychologists of our institute." These are heavenly conditions. Even suspicious. "Eduard Alekseevich, you haven't yet answered my question: why is all this for? Why did you take us through the hell?" asks Serezha. "Do you want to be together?" "Yes," we answer unanimously. "You see, young people, you two are an astonishing case. You suit each other perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. 91 give or take 3%. That's extremely high compatibility. But at the same time you can't fall in love with each other to start living together. There's a wall between you. Two walls. Each of you has built a high stone wall around the soul and neither is ready to break it. I'm saying obscure things, aren't I? Imagine two iron rings. They can exist each by itself, or they can be bonded together like links of a chain. If they are links of a chain, then they can't be disconnected by any force. But how can one join them together if they initially were each by itself? You are too different to START loving each other." "I see. And are there many people, like us?" - I ask. "Those who have been in some other's body? Just a few. Actually you are the fourth couple... If one counts me and aunt Sonya as well. The matrixing facilities exist less then a year and every experience is unique. That's why I take the liberty to ask you. In the name and for benefit of science, I'm asking you to live in each other's body for at least a week." The car's rocking mildly and I snuggle to Serezha. It's so pleasant to drowse on the back seat and feel him hugging me. We are taken come in a classy car. Certainly we agreed to live another two weeks in each other's bodies. It's not like we'll have a chance to experience that again. And I have an important thing I have to do. I must train the muscles of this body. It will be my present to Serezha. After all, I'm doing it for myself too. Whom am I going hiking with?! And it's useful for him to live in my body too. Let him harden his character and feel self-confidence. "Gal', are you awake?" "No," I shuffle trying to find a more comfortable way snuggling to him. "Gal', I thought how useful it will be for the doctors. One can get into the patient's body for an hour feel where it hurts and make a diagnosis in no time. "Not only for doctors. In any field where you have to pass on the experience. This is a great achievement in professional training." "How so?" "The professor told that when the foreign personality is absorbed... I'll tell you tomorrow, OK?" 02.12.1998 - 07.01.1999 Comments: 1. Lomova Galina - in Russian the surname traditionally goes before the name. 2. "In the morning he became a woman himself" - "сам наутро бабой стал", quotation from a popular folks song. 3. I walked, stumbled, woke up - arm in plaster. - quotation from a popular soviet movie. 4. militia - Russian police. 5. Galka - informal derivative of the female name Galina. 6. Galya - informal, endearing derivative of the female name Galina. 7. Gal' (Gal) - short for Galya (used to address a person). 8. pood - old Russian measure of weight. Equal to 16 kilos. 9. dacha - a small summerhouse on a small lot of land (usually six hundred square meters). 10. Fantomas - character from a popular French movie. 11. Serezha - informal, endearing derivative of the male name Sergey. 12. Eduard Alekseevich - a respectful form of addressing a person, meaning "Eduard, son of Aleksey". 13. KZOT - "КЗОТ" - Code of labour laws. 14. Aunt Sonya - in Russian the words "aunt" and "uncle" can be used not only referring to relatives, but also for mentioning well-acquainted older people.
     []
    (c) Translated by Strelnikova Olga 16 November 2007
    E-mail: strelnikova.olga(at)mail.ru
    Please e-mail me if you have found a mistake
    .

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