Words and photographs by Modest I. Predlozheniye
Hello, my dear readers! By the time you read this it will be Halloween in the United States.
I love this holiday even though it is a distinctly American one. When I was a child I can still remember those crisp autumn nights and the streets would be full of ghoulish white faces and suspicious characters wrapped from head to toe in bandages and maybe I’d even see the occasionally gruesome injury like a compound fracture with the bone sticking out. We did not call this Halloween, however. We just called it Friday in the oblast.
This Halloween I will be home and listening to LPs and sipping a Moscow Mule or two. This type of festive drink is always more enjoyable at home. It might be the warm fire from the fireplace my father built. It might be the beautiful folk music coming from my vintage 1973 Linn Sondek LP-12 turntable and McIntosh MAC1700 receiver and Dahlquist DQ-20 loudspeakers that were all purchased new in sealed boxes last year in Havana. It might be the genuine Russian vodka that tastes very different from the vodka that you are drinking because we know how to make vodka that is real vodka while you and your country probably do not.
That seems like a wonderful way to spend a quiet evening on the last day of October. But I have to tell you a secret, my faithful readers. I do not know if I want to celebrate Halloween any more because of what happened last year. You obviously know about this year because the whole world has gone a little mad and there are times in my home when the Moscow Mules get poured a little too frequently. (I cannot blame my roommate because I live alone. За здоровье!)
I cannot believe that a whole year has passed since that night. It was a very different world on 31 October 2019. I did not expect anything unusual.
The Spirit of Halloween Past
Excuse me, my dear friends, for that “break.” The new management at Part-Time Audiophile requires that I break up my text with because they say I tend to ramble. I did not even know how to make bold letters until this morning. Now I will get back to the story.
It was a dark and stormy night on 31 October 2019 and I was home alone with a Moscow Mule and a first pressing of Eduard Khil’s Greatest Hits for Comrades in Love. The Linn was sounding extra swarthy and rambunctious through the midrange which gave my dear Eduard a tentative huskiness that was just a little bit disconcerting. I still remember the sound of the dead leaves blowing in circles on my front porch. The wind howled for an hour straight and I instantly felt the urge to pull my mother’s old odeyalo from the attic. It is the warmest blanket I have and I love it dearly even though the rats have gnawed several holes in it the size of a pierogi. I am not talking about normal pierogis but the big ones you buy in the downtown marketplace from that old woman with one eye and two aggravated toychicks at her feet. Yap yap yap. You know the one.
My attic has been unkempt and perhaps a little dangerous over the last few years and I know that I must clean it before I die so that the authorities will write nice things about me for the newspapers. I travel so often and I always bring back plenty of souvenirs and I tend to throw them up in the attic while dreaming of a day when I will have a spot for them. As you know audiophiles seldom have a “spot.” That empty space over there? That is for the records I am going to buy. Does that sound familiar, dear readers?
I would tell you that I climbed the stairs to my attic to fetch Mother’s odeyalo but I now have to use a five meter extension ladder because the wood in the steps is starting to rot. I know, dear reader, I know. If that terrible virus has a silver lining it is the fact that I will spend more time as a caretaker for the family estate.
So I climbed the five meter extension ladder into my attic. These bones of mine are getting old and it takes me longer to climb a five meter extension ladder than it used to. My father the engineer could climb a six meter extension ladder in about ten seconds even into his seventies. That is why he was asked to join the Transcaucasian Socialist Volunteer Firemen even though he had to refuse because he was working on so many secret projects at the time for the state.
I felt a cold wind at the back of my neck once I managed to climb through the hole in the brick wall that led me into the attic. Once inside I was instantly hit in the face with a number of conflicting odors such as dead mice and guano and cinnamon potpourri and perhaps a touch of sauerkraut. (My attic is directly over the kitchen.) Fortunately I had a flashlight with me and I quickly located the damp cardboard box that contained my mother’s beloved blanket.
At first I thought it was the breeze, dear reader. I felt someone pulling on my pant leg and my heart started to race. Once the tugging became more deliberate and focused I imagined that it was a rat that was nibbling on the cuffs of my Japanese selvedge dungarees. I am talking about the ones that I traded for a hundred LPs several years ago. I heard that you are never supposed to wash these dungarees so that you can establish a proper fit. For just a second I considered that it was these pants that smelled of guano and cinnamon and I considered leaning over to catch a whiff to confirm and then I heard it.
It was the smallest of voices. At the same time it did not appear to come from a particular location in then attic so I did not know where to look. I believe that disembodied is the correct term in English. In my language we call it napugannaya koshka.
I found it even more troubling that the faint voice seem to belong to a little girl. A little girl? The last child that has walked through this attic was me when I used to come up here and play From Where Does the Homeland Begin? My skin felt clammy. My heart felt like it was about to burst from my chest. I moved slowly toward the center of the dark attic so that I could slowly rotate and see everything in the room. “Hello?” I asked.
Nothing, my dear readers. Not a peep.
It must have been the wind. Sometimes the wind shoots out of the north from Smolensk and makes curious sounds when it flows through the silver birches. My father used to tell me that those noises where from the ghosts of old Russian engineers who did not take the time to have their findings confirmed through peer review. I nervously retrieved the blanket and had slowly retreated back to the five meter extension ladder when I heard it again.
It was indeed the voice of a little girl. It sounded like she was right in front of me and yet a million miles away. I could only make out two words: “Your speakers.”
I am not ashamed to tell you that I ran. I made it down the five meter extension ladder in less time than my father the engineer and I quickly ran into my bedroom and jumped into my bed and dove under the blankets. I was shivering and frantic and it occurred to me more than once that it was not the voice of a little girl that I heard but rather a voice in my own head. My speakers? The amazing and pristine new-in-box Dahlquists? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the DQ-10s. They are timeless! And so dynamic! Am I going crazy, dear readers?
I couldn’t stop shivering. That made me think of my mother’s blanket which I had dropped on the floor in the attic when I ran. At that point I did hear another voice in my head. This one was more familiar to me because it was me. I told myself that I really needed to go back and get that odeyalo or I was going to freeze my mudak off.
Who Are You?
I spent a few more minutes debating, my dear and patient friends. I was scared and I was cold. If I went back to get the blanket I would probably become more scared. If I stayed in bed I would probably freeze to death. I started thinking about my father the engineer’s fireplace and why it was not doing a better job of keeping my home warm. Maybe the stones of the fireplace were starting to crack and crumble and allowing the heat to escape into the forest. A decision was made right then and there. I would never go back into that attic and clean it out but perhaps it was time to call the chimney sweep to inspect my father’s shoddy construction techniques. Some engineer he turned out to be.
I am being crazy and stupid. I kept saying those words to myself over and over. When did Modest become such a trus? You are an engineer. You have dedicated your life to finding out the answers to these so-called mysteries. Go back in that attic, Modest!
So I did.
The attic was quiet. I could not even hear the wind from outside gliding over the roof. Wait. Is that a hole in the roof? It must be because I can see the stars in the nighttime sky. Just as I trained my flashlight on the hole above my head I heard the disembodied voice again. It was louder this time.
“What about my speakers? And who are you?”
I am nothingness. I am a loose end.
“What do you mean? Am I imagining you?”
No, I am real. Real annoyed.
Oh no, I thought. I have done something wrong in my life and now I will be haunted for the end of my days. “What have I done?” I asked the voice.
“Listen to what?”
Listen to Eduard Khil. Do you hear anything wrong?
I listened intently for a few moments to the record that was still playing on the Linn Sondek LP-12. It was the last song on the side and I knew I had to get downstairs soon to flip the record. I needed to wrap this up quickly.
“Just tell me what is wrong and I will rectify it!”
I heard a deep sigh from the little girl. I knew I had let her down in some way. One of your goddamned Dahlquists is wired out of phase. The left channel.
While it was strange to hear a child’s voice swear at me, I went back to the five meter extension ladder and climbed back down into the living room. I flipped the record and cued up the first track. It sounded fine to me. Then I looked at the connections on the back of the Dahlquist on the left and yes. The little ghost girl was correct. I swapped the cables. Eduard Khil sounded less husky and more patriotic. He sounded like Eduard my Hero once again.
I was tempted to sit and listen but my mind kept going back to my upstairs visitor. I climbed the five meter extension ladder and I could see her clearly. Yes, my dear readers, she was as clear and as beautiful as any young girl you might see picking tsvetok in the fields. She had honey blonde hair and a playful sprinkle of freckles kissing her cheeks.
“I can see you!” I exclaimed.
Yes. It’s amazing how clear everything becomes once you wire everything in phase.
I smiled and nodded. The little girl made a move toward the five meter extension ladder. “Are you leaving?” I asked her.
She turned to me. My work here is done.
She grabbed the five meter extension ladder and started to climb down. But she stopped and looked up at me one more time.
Oh there’s one more thing.
“What is it?”
Pull the Dahlquists away from the back wall a little more. That’s some flabby, one-note bass you have there, Modest.