Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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Mr. L.
by Mark Budman

One early morning in the Aughts, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, dead since 1924, came to life. No one except a stray fly witnessed this historical event happening inside the marble construction known as the Mausoleum, next to the Kremlin wall. But the fly who had his attention span and greediness roughly equivalent to that of some Russian political journalists, found a crumb and immediately lost interest.
     At first, Lenin lay quietly, hands folded on his chest, staring at the ceiling with unblinking eyes the color of old paper, seeing nothing but random flashes of the last moments of his life. His wife Nadezhda's wet face leaning toward him on his pillow. His power tool-his fountain pen, he used to sign decrees and death sentences, peace treaties and war declarations, now just a useless piece of stationary on the nighttable. Flowers everywhere. Leather jacket of a bodyguard. Whispering physicians. Stalin's smirk in the background. Karl Marx' portrait Lenin couldn't bring to focus and he could swear was also smirking.
     Now, Lenin coughed and sat up. His lips quivered and beads of sweat appeared on his face that looked as if made frompapier-mâché by uncaring hands of a Russian factory worker. Lenin breathed the stale air spasmodically, grunting and flailing his arms. The blanket covering his body to the waist fell to the floor as he slid off his supposedly eternal resting place and took the first step.
     The chamber, a shrine of atheistic worship for generations of Soviet and then Russian people, smelled faintly of old sweat and harsh chemicals. Lenin shook his head, banning the ghosts of the past, wrinkled his nose against the smells and began to examine the surroundings.
      He found a door shortly, unlatched it and let himself out. He crossed the Red Square, concentrating his attention on the Russian tricolor above Spasski Tower rather than on the strange cars and unusual clothes.
      "Is this still the Kremlin,comrade?" Lenin asked an older gentleman who was sitting on a bench smoking and periodically spitting on the ground. Bright ribbons covered the man's narrow chest and a proletarian hat covered his bony skull.
      The man gave him a prolonged stare, chewed his lip and said,"Sometimes I wonder myself."
     "I see the Czarist tricolor instead of the Red Banner. What happened? Did the Whites ally with the World Imperialists and Plutocrats and took over?"
      "Well, it looks that way,doesn't it? This place is full of shit."The man closed his eyes and put his hand to his forehead, perhaps trying to summarize all the shit this place was full of in one sentence.
      "Even the Lenin Library is not his any more," he came up with the sentence finally. "They changed its name. They call it the Central Library or something. Imagine that!"
      The resurrected mummy, stroking the jaw, sat next to the man. "I'm not sure I understand you,comrade."
      The man gave him another prolonged look. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of them. "I'm Ivan Ivanovich Stepashkin. A Personal Pensioner of the Soviet Union. Say, what's your name? You are not a New Russian, are you? These businessmen-Mafiosi are the roots of all evil."
      "I am Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov-Lenin."
      Stepashkin rose to his feet and backed away. Then a smile of comprehension touched his lips.
      "You're probably drunk," he said and bent to sniff Lenin. The smell of chemicals, normal for a mummy, assaulted his nostrils.
      "What kind of stuff did you drink, buddy?" Stepashkin shouted. "I don't understand you guys! What's wrong with plain vodka?"
      "I'm not drunk, comrade," Lenin said. "I was sick for a long time. I still feel dizzy. Please, help me. You'll be rewarded."
      "Sure, pal, sure. A huge reward or just plain big? I'm picky, you know."
      "Please, guide me to my quarters. I know, it might sound strange. But this all has become so confusing that I feel lost."
      "Your quarters, huh? Where are your quarters?"
      "Somewhere inside the Kremlin. But. But I don't remember exactly."
      "You sure that you're not mistaking this place for a lunatic asylum? If you are, I won't blame you."
      "Could you, please, call the Red Guards, comrade?"
      "Red Guards, huh? The Revolutionary Hero Budennov's own? Sure, pal. Anything to make you happy. Wait."
      Lenin reclined on the bench. He desperately tried to concentrate, but his thoughts moved inside his skull slowly, like maggots. In minutes, Stepashkin returned with two militia officers, the cops.
      "What seems to be the problem?" one of them asked. He was pale, thin and tall, like an intestinal worm. Two small stars adorned each of his shoulder boards.
      Lenin contemplated the stars suspiciously, since only the White Guards wore shoulder boards in his time, and said nothing.
      "Any ID?" the star-studied worm insisted.
      Lenin searched through his pockets, but found only a spare dusting cloth that his prudent janitor stored there just in case. In desperation, he pointed to the medal of the Red Banner.
      "Come with us," the worm said. He and his partner handcuffed Lenin, pushed him into a car commonly known as a ChernyVoronok, Black Baby Raven, and off they went. Stepashkin returned to the bench and spit on the ground.
      "If you are Lenin," he said to himself, "where have you been until now? The Soviet Union's gone. Law and order's over. The Party's over. You're full of shit, Vladimir Ilyich, pardon my Polish."


    The cops pushed Lenin into a small, crowded room populated mostly with drunks sleeping restlessly on the bare floor and emanating noxious fumes and shreds of words. Lenin navigated between them to the corner and stood there, observing the scene with the eyes of a cat caught in an overgrown mousetrap.
      In an hour, a guard took him to an interrogation room.
      Two officers sat behind a table. They didn't offer Lenin a seat.
      "I was told that you call yourself Lenin, citizen." This officer had two gold teeth for incisors and overly bright lips. He could have been a vampire pierced by a wooden stake in a former life. His shoulder boards had three stars each.
      "That's who I am," the Leader of the World Proletariat said, barely audible.
      "Very funny," the former vampire said. From his table, he produced a metal wand with two wires sticking from its top and came close to the Leader.
      "This is called the Thingy," the vampire said. "Very painful. But leaves no traces. Impossible to prove. I could hurt you all night long until you stop being funny." He pressed a button, and a rivulet of blue sparks cascaded from the wires. Then he returned to his table and asked again, "What's your name,citizen?"
      "Wait a minute,"another officer with two stars per shoulder board said. "Doesn't here mind you of somebody?"
      The former vampire squinted. "Looks a little like Sweet Fucking Grandfather Lenin. So what? I'll hurt him even if he looks like a boyscout from a poster."
      "Listen, pops," the other officer said. "Listen to me. Stay out of trouble. Don't call yourself Lenin. Find a good, common Russian name and stick to it. How about Vasily Lukashin or Sergey Popov? Deal?"
      "Deal," Lenin said, barely moving his tongue. The creature with the Thingy scared him more than anything else had in his entire life. Ten minutes later,he was back in the street.


      Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the former leader of the former USSR, later a worshipped mummy, presently a fugitive and a private in the rapidly growing army of Moscow's homeless,sat on a marble bench inside Bauman metro station. His hands covered his face. He didn't feel well. His waxen fingers trembled and his non-existing intestines ached-a phantom pain, as his long-dead personal physician would have called it. The day before, Lenin had stolen a cotton-filled hat known as an ushanka from a sleeping drunkard. He now wore it earflaps down.
      He found a dull razor in one of the few remaining public bathrooms and trimmed his characteristic goatee, known to generations of the Soviet people, nicking himself all over. Fortunately, he didn't bleed anymore. He constructed a terrible-looking scar on his cheek with a bit of lipstick he found on a sidewalk and with a sliver of a leftover soap. Surveying himself through a screen of spidery cracks in the bathroom mirror, Lenin was happy with the results of his transformation. It was a tribute to the survival skills, he had sharpened during his turbulent pre-revolution days.
      He discovered that in his present state he needed neither food, nor drink, nor even sleep. But he definitely had at least one need. He needed to advance his cause-to transfer power where it belonged-to the proletarians of the world.
      To do that, he required faithful, no-questions-asked followers. Hence, he had a dilemma--followers could only be found if he revealed himself. But what if one of the potential followers turned him in? After his encounter with the former vampire, he feared cops as he feared no one before. Moreover, everything around him was so confusing that he preferred the relatively conservative confinement of the metro to the chaos above.
      A few times he contemplated making a phone call, but saw that people used coins he didn't have. And begging for coins was not an option. He still had his pride, albeit wounded. He wouldn't hesitate to steal because that was an appropriation in his revolutionary lingo, but the few sleeping drunkards whose pocket she dared to examine had no money.
      Things were bright and clear to him in the beginning of the century. A brother of the executed czar-assassin, Lenin rose to power among the revolutionists quickly. He made provocative speeches, wrote not quite logical but fiery and appealing articles and intrigued against his faction opponents.
      In 1917, he climbed atop of an armored car and made his best speech yet. The rest was history to most, but bright and vivid memories to him. Now, the future loomed like the ghost of Trotsky, and Lenin was lost for the first time in his adult life.


      A man in a gray raincoat and a black fedora came from nowhere and sat next to him. The unbuttoned top of his coat showed a crisp white shirt and a somber tie. The man's hips were wider than his shoulders.
     Lenin closed his eyes and swayed his body left-right, left-right. He had found that few many civilians or even cops wanted to deal with a crazy, diseased homeless person.
      This man turned out to be an exception. He leaned toward the former leader and sniffed like a dog, lifting his wrinkling, pudgy nose up to the ceiling. Gray hair protruded from his wide nostrils.
      "You're Lenin," he whispered. "Don't deny it. I know you are!"
      "Let me alone," Lenin moaned. "My name's Sergey Popov. I'm sick. I'm going to throw up."
      That was the ultimate, if empty, threat he had discovered in his short street experience, but it did not deter the stranger.
      "Don't be alarmed, blood-relative Ilyich," he whispered a bit louder. "My name's Leontiev. Petr Sergeevich Leontiev. I'm on your side. I'm a Communist. Former second secretary of the Bauman Party district. See?" He opened his raincoat with the well-rehearsed gesture of a master exhibitionist, revealing a red Soviet flag pin on his lapel, completed with tiny golden sickle and hammer.
      "They are searching for you all over, sir. Come with me."
      "Why do you think I'm Lenin?" Blood-relative Ilyich opened one eye. The other one remained stubbornly shut.
      The man lowered his gaze.
      "Don't be offended, blood-relative Ilyich, but I can smell you."
      Half an hour later, they entered Leontiev's spacious apartment on prestigious Sadovoe Koltso.
      "You'll be safe here, blood-relative Ilyich," Leontiev said, opening one lock after another on a heavy, safe-like door. "My wife divorced me back in 1994. Married one of the president's junior aides."
      Lenin stared at him. The man somehow reminded him of Rykov, a prominent Bolshevik and Lenin's opponent. He probably shouldn't trust this stranger, but he had no choice.
      "Sit down, Vladimir Ilyich. I will turn the TV on for you. Do you want a drink?"
      Lenin shrugged.
      "You're welcome to take a shower, Vladimir Ilyich. Here's a new suit, shirt and tie. We are about the same size, heh-heh-heh. I'll run to the grocery store. Will be right back."
      Lenin examined the tiny black box with buttons Leontiev had thrust in his hands and put it aside. The blinking TV screen made him dizzy. He took a shower and dressed himself in Leontiev's clothing, struggling with, but eventually winning against, the zipper. The clothes did indeed fit well except for the pants which were overly wide in the hips.
      He then leafed through Leontiev's books. First, through the
handsomely bound tome of Lenin's own selected works, then through a Russian edition of Hamlet, perhaps subconsciously drawn to it by a picture of a skull on the frontpage.
      At this point, the door slammed open and the room filled with cops, guns drawn. Leontiev, smiling nervously, stooped behind them.
      "Why, Comrade Leontiev?" Lenin asked softly.
      "Sorry, Vladimir Ilyich," the man said taking cover behind the biggest cop. "One can't make ends meet on pension alone any more. Dollars talk when you're hungry"     


They brought Lenin to what looked like a hospital room and did a check-up. The X-rays showed no internal organs, just embalming herbs, and medications normally present in a twentieth century mummy.
      "Are you folks with the White Guards?" Lenin asked when the checkup was over.
      "No, we are not," the Politician In Charge said. His bushy eyebrows made him look like Brezhnev and therefore his career
hadn't gone as high as he hoped it would.
      "Perhaps you are Bolsheviks?"
      "We are not Bolsheviks either," the Politician In Charge said.
      Lenin's chin dropped."You're confusing me, folks," he said.
"Let me ask you a question, sir," the Politician In Charge said."What's your name?"
      "Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich."
      "Do you remember how you got here, sir?"
      "In some kind of a motor vehicle. Very strange construction."
      "What about before that?"
      "Before that I lived on the streets. What has happened to me?"
      "And before that?"
      "I don't remember."
      "Do you remember what happened in 1917?"
      The Leader straightened up and pronounced in a loud, well-articulated voice, "The Revolution, which we, the Bolsheviks, were prophesying all along, finally took place. We, the Bolsheviks, took power to serve the working people of the world."
      "I always wanted toask," the Assistant to the Mayor interrupted, "why did you show so little respect for democracy?"
He looked like a young American college professor and they used him mostly to entertain Westerners.
      Lenin turned to him. His eyes were aflame.
      "Democracy is a tool of Imperialism," he said and shook his fist. "It was to designed to confuse the masses. That's what happened in February of 1917. The bourgeoisie manipulated the election process and put Kerenskyin power. Who was he? A lawyer, a bad actor, a womanizer, a draft dodger."
      "Were you not a lawyer and a womanizer?" the Assistant to the Mayor asked. "Were you not the inventor of Gulag and the reign of terror?"
"Listen," Lenin said. "I'm losing my patience. I'm the Leader of the Soviet Union. You're treating me like a criminal. I demand to make a phone call."
      "Be my guest," the Politician In Charge said and pointed to a telephone.
      "Do I need a coin?"
      The Leader picked up the receiver and stood there, waiting.
      "What happened?" he said finally. "What happened to the phone girl?"
      "You don't need no phone girl, Vladimir Ilyich," the Police Chief said. The size of his mustache would shame the best grenadier of Peter the Great. "Just dial the number," he said. "Press the buttons."
      The Leader pressed a couple of buttons. His face suddenly lit up. "Miss," he shouted. "Miss, please connect me with Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky."
      Then his face lost whatever traces of color it still had. "She's repeating the same thing again and again."
      "What does she say?" the Doctor asked. She was the only woman in the group. Even though she looked like a distinguished professor from an advertising poster of a medical school, complete with a pristine white coat and gold-rimmed glasses, she seemed to be uncomfortable surrounded by men. The Police Chief had already touched her a few times, as if unintentionally.
      Lenin turned to her. His face held a mixture of rage and bewilderment. "If you want to make a call, please hang up and dial again."


      They injected Lenin with tranquilizers and put him to bed in a locked room with a barred window. Two cops in riot gear, armed with AK-47s guarded the door.
      "I don't know," the Politician In Charge said. "We all thought that the Mafia stole his body. But he's alive! Now, I don't know what to think and whom to blame. Chernobyl fallout? Space aliens? Transcendental powers? Could it really be Lenin? The Lenin?Alive? Could this be a hoax?"
      "Beats me," the Doctor said. "The way things happen in Russia, nothing surprises me anymore."
      "What should we do?" the Politician In Charge said."The way he is, we can't put him back in the Mausoleum. I mean, he might refuse to lay still when the visitors come." He lit a cigarette and began to pace around the room.
      "The people deserve to know the truth," the Assistant to the Mayor said.
      "What is truth?" the Doctor said.
      "Stop being philosophical," the Politician In Charge said. "Who's asking you anyway?" He turned away from the Doctor. "What should I report to the President?"
      "Maybe he will be dead again soon," the Police Chief said. "Then we won't have a problem. Dead people lay still as a rule."
      "I hope you're not talking about the President?" the Politician In Charge said.
      "Hell, no. Not this time. I'm talking about the fucking mummy."
      "He's no mummy anymore,"the Doctor said. "He's a living being, and he deserves to be treated as such."
      "Just think of the political implications of Lenin being alive," the Politician In Charge said. "The Communists could use him. The nationalists could use him. The Mafia could use him."
      "That's a thought," the Police Chief said.
      The Politician In Charge stared at him, but the Police Chief returned the stare unblinking. The Politician In Charge resumed his pacing.
      "I wonder if he dreams now," the Doctor said.
      "Yeah, what kinds of dreams would a mummy on tranquilizers have?" the Assistant to the Mayor said.
      "I have an idea," the Aide to the Politician In Charge said. Everybody stared at him.
      "Remember, we were thinking of sending Lenin's body abroad for a traveling exhibit, to collect hard currency?" he said and adjusted his gold-rim glasses. "Why can't we do that with the living body? Imagine him telling all these authentic historic tales? Making his famous speeches once again? The West might pay even more."
      Everybody was quiet for a while, chewing on the idea.
      "I like that," the Politician In Charge said.
      "Hard currency's always nice. Especially in the right hands," the Police Chief said.
      "But that's inhumane,"the Doctor said.
"In our day and age everybody has to make his sacrifices to Mother Russia," the Politician In Charge said. "Including former mummies. I'm going to call the President right now. I'm sure he will like my idea."
      "As a representative of the opposition-" the Assistant to the Mayor began.
      "The decision is already made," the Politician In Charge interrupted. "Too late. Sorry."
      "Do what you want," the Police Chief said. "I've got better things to do." And he left.
      "I don't like this. Don't like this at all," the Assistant to the Mayor said. "I'm going to complain." And he left as well.
      "If he's Lenin, I wonder why he didn't say something profound?" the Doctor said.
      "Politicians are not paid to say profound things. They are paid to cook up the laws and to massage their own egos," the Politician In Charge said. He sighed. "This country is going down the drain. Only a miracle could save us."
      "Some miracles look like sleight of hand," the Doctor said.


     An armored car of a style obsolete since the World War I, its guns removed, was parked on the lawn of the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York. A man in his fifties, in a black suit, a starched white shirt and an old-fashioned tie stood on the top of the car, vocalizing in Russian, shaking his fist above his head, and clutching a proletarian cap in his other hand.
      Cold drizzle fell on the heads of his entourage. It consisted of a butler-bodyguard-caterer, who stood next to Lenin with a giant red umbrella, the former Aide, now the tired head of Lenin's Traveling Exhibit, the sulking Doctor, and a translator so featureless that he could have been a member of a secret police of any country.
      A small crowd of American spectators bristled with umbrellas of all colors of the rainbow, but mostly black. The crowd was applauding politely at the right times, cued by the speaker's gestures and facial expression. They paid fifteen dollars a head, and the University provided free accommodations, food for the entourage and the manpower to handle the disabled armored car.
      A few hard-core anti-Communists with a placard proclaiming "Lenin, well, go back to hell!" demonstrated behind a thin line of cops. Their umbrellas were identical to the people on the other side.
      The next day, the Russians were supposed to leave for Chicago, to an even more receptive, large and cash-rich audience. The exhibit was a smashing success, a miraculous event in a long chain of Russian failing enterprises.


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