from the Collection «Dark alleys»
Pre-revolutionary Moscow. The winter of 1912. Every evening the narrator visited the same apartment opposite the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
There lived a woman he loved madly.
The narrator took her to fancy restaurants, gave her books, chocolates, and fresh flowers, but he didn't know how it would end. She didn't want to talk about the future. Intimacy had not yet occurred between them, and this kept the narrator "in unresolved tension, in excruciating suspense. In spite of this, he was happy beside her.
She was a history student and lived alone: her father, a widower and an enlightened man, had settled "at rest in Tver." All of the narrator's gifts the woman accepted carelessly and absent-mindedly. It was as if she wanted nothing: no flowers, no books, no dinners, no theaters, no dinners out of town. She had her favorite flowers, she read books, she ate chocolate and dined with great pleasure, but her only real weakness was "nice clothes, velvets, silks, expensive furs."
The narrator often recalled how they met at a lecture by Andrew White. The writer did not give the lecture, but sang it while running around the stage. The narrator "twirled and laughed so much" that he caught the attention of the girl sitting in the next chair, and she laughed with him.
Sometimes she silently, but not reluctantly, allowed the narrator to kiss "her hands, her feet, her amazingly smooth body. Feeling that he could no longer control himself, she would pull away and leave. She said she was not fit for marriage, and the narrator never spoke to her about it again.
Our incomplete intimacy seemed to me at times unbearable, but then again-what was left to me but hope for time?
The fact that he looked at her, accompanied her to restaurants and theaters, amounted to anguish and happiness for the narrator.
This is how the narrator spent January and February. Shrovetide came. On Goodbye Sunday, she told me to pick her up earlier than usual. They went to the Novodevichy monastery. On the way she told me that yesterday morning she had been to the cemetery of the dissenters, where the archbishop was buried, and she recollected the whole ceremony with enthusiasm. The narrator was surprised: until now he had not noticed that she was so religious.
At the cemetery of the Novodevichy monastery they walked for a long time between the graves. The narrator looked at her with adoration. She noticed this and was genuinely surprised: he really loves her so much! In the evening they ate pancakes in the inn of Okhotny Ryad, she again told him admiringly about the monasteries she had managed to see, and threatened to go to the most remote of them. The narrator did not take her words seriously.
The next evening she asked the narrator to take her to a theatrical "kapustnik," though she considered such gatherings vulgar. She drank champagne all evening, watched the actors' antics, and then danced the polka dashingly with one of them.
In the middle of the night, the narrator brought her home. To his surprise, she asked him to let the coachman go up to her apartment - she had not allowed this before. Intimacy occurred between them. Toward morning she informed the narrator that she was leaving for Tver, promised to write and asked him to leave her now.
The narrator received the letter two weeks later. She bid him farewell and asked him not to wait and not to look for her.
I will not go back to Moscow, I will go to obedience for now, and then, perhaps, I will decide to take monastic vows... May God give me strength not to answer you - it is useless to prolong and increase our torment...
The narrator complied with her request. He began to disappear into the dirtiest taverns, gradually losing his human face, then a long, indifferent and hopeless recovery.
Two years passed. On New Year's Eve, the narrator, with tears in his eyes, repeated the path he had once taken with his beloved on Farewell Sunday. Then he decided to go to the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent. The janitor wouldn't let the narrator in: inside the service was going on for the Grand Duchess and the Grand Duke. The narrator went in anyway, slipping the janitor a ruble.
In the courtyard of the monastery, the narrator saw a procession. It was headed by the grand duchess, followed by a line of singing nuns or sisters with candles near their pale faces. One of the sisters suddenly raised her black eyes and looked directly at the narrator, as if sensing his presence in the dark. The narrator turned and walked quietly out of the gate.
The retelling is based on an edition of the story from Bunin's Collected Works in 6 Volumes (Moscow: Art Literature, 1988).