THE BOOKKEEPER'S CONFESSION
I am a quiet and reasonable kind of person, and frankly speaking, nothing like an adventure lover. I don't smoke, the doubtful pleasures of the bar hopping scene are not for me either, and the explicit glances of the opposite sex members leave me utterly indifferent. I must admit, fair ladies honor me with their attention, well, more than rarely. But that doesn't upset me, though I live alone for a long, long time. For I am deeply fascinated by a very different kind of beauty, the beauty of the world of numbers…
It all began last Friday. A heavy rain started towards the end of the day and somebody leaving work before me must have absent-mindedly taken my umbrella. Therefore, I had no options left but to run to the subway station under a pouring rain, cursing profusely, trying to dodge the open umbrellas of the people moving in my direction. A little more of that kind of race, and the folder with the documents I've taken with me to work on during the weekend would inevitably become soaking wet. It was the thought of those papers that led me to an unexpected decision: to drop by to the nearest bar and wait there for the bad weather to recede.
I pushed the door, shifted my feet at the entrance to shake the water off my raincoat, proceeded to the bartender and asked for a double espresso. The place was half empty and dark, the only source of light was at the back of the bar, but in less than two minutes I felt I was being watched. Despite being a man of a reason, I happen to be a nervous kind, and don't like being stared at. I immediately start to imagine that my shoelace has untied or that I forgot to put on the undershirt. Sounds like nonsense in general, but still makes me feel uneasy. To put it briefly, I had to display an absent-minded smile and turn to the tables by the wall. I do wish I didn't! There she was, sitting next to the entrance, Mrs. White, my new assistant, and the way she looked at me was as if she expected me to throw my head at her bosom and explode in tears of joy.
I first met her at the company meeting this morning. My boss introduced us to each other, but I didn't even have a chance to take a closer look at her, my mind being too preoccupied with the annual reporting; besides, staring impudently at the new employee, even if it's a tall blonde with a big, sensitive, brightly-colored mouth is simply not my style. At work I always tend to think about the business, only the business, and nothing but the business. The company annual reporting, as insignificant event as it may seem to somebody, to me is always a matter of utmost importance. To fully understand what I mean by that you have to work as a full charge bookkeeper for twenty years. And the point is, it's not just being a professional. The beauty and the grace - I dare even say, the poetry - of numbers, their absolute indifference to everything but the logic - that's what a annual report really is. An attempt to stop the chaos, if you wish. I do believe that the world around us is missing a lot by being reluctant to follow the rational mathematical laws in its everyday life. And for the numbers…even the way they are written, if you think about it… Take ZERO, for example - a foundation of foundations, such a simple and at the same time deep and complicated figure, emptiness bound in a circle, the beginning of the beginnings. ONE - the starting line, a spear threatening the entropy, follows it… Those who call me "the philosopher of the bookkeeping" certainly do have their reason!..
Down there at the bar, I was perplexed and bewildered; responding for some unknown reason to Mrs. White's calling appeal I crawled off the high bar stool and set off for her table. She must have entered the place right after I did. Mrs. White pointed to the vacant seat across her table and at once complained, never ceasing to smile, that she was freezing. Naturally, I didn't say anything to that, just shrugged my shoulders. Next thing I remember is feeling totally struck by surprise, for having mentioned without embarrassment that her legs are cold, Mrs. White placed one of them on my knees. My first reaction was to jump up and leave immediately. But to get out of the table I had to remove her leg from my knees. Trying to do it I felt with horror that Mrs. White had taken off not only the shoes, but also the stockings. Quite opposite to what she's just said, her leg felt blazing hot. I convulsively jerked my hand back. Mrs. White's leg kept moving, as if looking for a more convenient spot to rest on, and the burning sensation was so intense that I hardly kept myself from screaming. A polite smile didn't leave Mrs. White's face. She was passionately telling me something, lightly tapping her fingers on the table. I couldn't understand a word and tried to concentrate on a signet-ring that she was wearing in place of the wedding band. On a massive flat agate there was the number EIGHT made of small diamonds. The most amazing number! - a ZERO furled into a spiral, a symbol of the infinity of the space and time… All of a sudden it seemed to me that this sparkling EIGHT started to increase, growing bigger every second, putting Mrs. White and then the whole world behind it totally out of sight. The feeling was that it's just another minute or two, and the greatest mysteries of the Universe will be revealed unto me… Probably at this moment Mrs. White announced: "I'm your Muse, Mr. Pinsky". And I felt something breaking inside me, my head went dizzy, everything started to drift before my eyes and I have no recollection of what had happened next… Having come back to my senses I discovered that Mrs. White has just vanished.
Such a start of the weekend felt so terrible that I never even opened the folder with the annual report. I just couldn't stop thinking about that cursed ring, about that sparkling EIGHT. By Sunday I've decided that it was all a result of too much stress lately, and that I need to divert. The adventure in the bar now seemed just a delusion, a stupid accident, maybe a bit improper at my age, but, in general, fairly innocent. So I ended up spending Sunday night staring mindlessly at the flickering TV screen, not really understanding what I was watching. And when Monday came… Monday morning I walked into my office, dived into the so dearly familiar world of numbers and strict mathematical logic and tried to persuade myself that the Friday incident just never occurred. In any case there was no time left for any second thoughts, my watch showed two minutes to nine.
I placed the folder on the table, opened it and… gave a gasp, utterly astonished. You shouldn't misunderstand me: an excessive, even morbid passion for numbers that I'm said to possess by my ill-wishers is an absolute nonsense. I percept the numbers the way an experienced bookkeeper should. Save sometimes just indulge myself in a thought or two about the numbers' hidden meaning. Definitely nothing more than that. But the instance I opened the folder I thought I was out of my mind: the annual report - the one I've been working on for so long! - was filled with the endless columns of EIGHTS… Considering the fact that I haven't touched the papers since having put them into the folder Friday night! Just try to imagine what it feels like to discover a devil in an otherwise logical and reasonable world of a person like myself! I'm sure nobody will blame me for tearing an almost finished annual report into pieces and even erasing it from the computer memory. And immediately starting to prepare it from the very beginning. Whatever might be happening to me, my professional duties should be of the highest priority. I was working at the very edge of my abilities, day and night, and a miracle happened - the report was at my boss's table just in time.
That basically concludes the story. I just have to add that two hours later I was fired, just thrown out into the street - and that was after twenty years of utterly self-sacrificing work for the company! My position was passed to Mrs. White. The boss was banging his fist on the table and screaming that this annual report was the most terrible failure of my whole life. Though I am still ultimately convinced that it was not simply flawless - it was a masterpiece of art in a certain way. The thing is, there was not a single EIGHT in the report…
Translated by Lev Kelbert