Karl Marx in the Headlights of Late Capitalism
by Robert Steiner
 

You've been to Petersburg. You know what I'm talking about.

I order two mouths, one a hipless prepubescent to kiss my anus, the other a chunky fellatrix. Afterwards they complain that for prostitutes the end of bolshevism has been a public relations horror. Where once they were capitalist entrepreneurs revolting against a decrepit prole bureaucracy, enjoying swanky lives among the apparatchiks, now they are just another interest group picketing parliament for tax breaks, blood tests and free rubbers. Where they rebelled against the reactionary forces of sexual repression by being full frontal guerrillas whose manifesto conflated true Leninism with orgasm, now they're confronted by tattoos and pierced clits. With fashion statements like tongue chains and sewn labia jazzing up the profession, every schoolgirl wants to be a chippie. It gets worse. Those who gave blowjobs in doorways under bolshevism now have to gangbang a football club to make rubles enough for the landlord not to double the rent they still owe. Those who used to fuck football clubs are now fucking dobermans for Arab tourists. Those who fucked dobermans are having the flesh stripped from their bodies by whips, birchrods and studded leather paddles. This is the domino effect, says the boyish thirteen year old, when capitalism has conquered the cosmos. Under the old regime fetish commodity meant something, it meant us, she insists tapping her bony chest. Now all we hear is lifestyle choice, of which hooking is apparently one among thousands. We go with the burgers and the fries.

When I throw dollars on the bed the hefty one straps on a metal dildo and begins to ramrod the little one's ass. The kid grunts as if she were trying to lift a bag of cement. More clients are drunker than ever, she says burping her words because of the assault, which I'm historifying on Polaroid. They expect us to get their dicks hard when they've been drinking all day, and if we get their dicks hard they expect us to keep them from passing out while they try to fuck us, and if we keep them from passing out they expect us to make them come, which most of the time is impossible, so they don't pay or they beat us and don't pay, or even sometimes beat us, come because of it and still don't pay. We used to be the mediation between the base and the superstructure, the buxom one continues, in our nurse's outfits, our stern teacher's severe suits, our gulag guard grays. Our eroticized economic function, she notes, made us the catheter connecting the regime's bladder and the bedpan into which the strain and suffering of Marxist theory poured its history. When I gave an enema, the titless one waxes, the party official's soul was cleansed, the hidden core of him that still thought utopian purged itself of the toxins and debris separating the praxis he lived from the doxa he dreamed. You could smell the future when I was done with him, and it was fresh as a blizzard.

From one of the Polaroids I realize it isn't that the young whore has been shaving or waxing her muff but that she doesn't have any hair there. Just the sort of precocious kid a parent wants. I want to compliment her but the big slut's shoving the dildo farther faster and the little one's beginning the road to a fake orgasm so I keep quiet, sit and spectate like I'm being convinced she loves nothing better than a foot long piece of pipe in her rectum. Marxist totality, she moans, requires dialexis between the rational history of economic interests and the irrational gratifications of a desiring subject -- she points a finger at me, the desiring subject. Her face is purpling and a vein is twitching on her forehead above her right eye. Her entire body is by turns stiff and quivering, and the dildo nearly disappears from the fat whore's hands. The little one reaches between her own legs in search of her labia, which she tugs like taffy. We were the cultural institution, she says breathily, that helped society exteriorize its interior, the essence of the contradictions between authentic self and alienated existence -- again she points. Am I authentic self, alienated existence or what happens in between? Ouch, she says glancing back at the big mama whose arm fat is shaking with the labor of getting this slut of a child to come for real. Concrete reification, the kid mumbles closing her eyes. I think she's really going to come. I think she likes the pipe. When I sucked a worker's thing, fatso says taking over the clit to help the youngster get off, at that moment nobody understood the relationship between production and consumption better. The young one's scream, a bit theatrical, is in part because the older one has finally relented and begun to withdraw the dildo. It takes forever because of the length. We were the unconscious that flared up to prevent bolshevism from decaying into just another ideology of machines. Like capitalism itself, the hairless one clarifies while creaming her raw asshole. She calls the blubbery tart Auntie for the first time. Together they wash the dildo in ammonia and water at the sink of my bar. Then they place the beast in the sunshine of the window and in just their skirts head for the balcony to catch the air and smoke a cigarette. I'd join them but it feels to me like this is their coffee break, and I realize I need to recover from believing in that phony orgasm. Eventually they invite me so they can tell me that across the river is the Hermitage, the greatest art museum in the world. I'm in my overcoat and scarf standing between these bare breasted whores above the Neva in winter being lectured on the paintings I should see before I debouche. Frankly, the image is so perfect I can't resist cradling them into my coat while they finish up their smokes.

If you must know the weather goes something like this: "The wind howled in the deserted streets, lifting up the black water above the rings on the river bank and brushing against the lean lampposts so that they seemed to chime in thin shrill shrieks with which every native of Petersburg is familiar. Snow and rain were falling at the same time, striking the luckless pedestrian like thousands of needles." You can imagine then the nipples on my sluts before they decide it's safer inside with me. Of course the overwriting is Dostoevsky's -- who else? -- in a book called The Double. Very famous, very psychological, very Freud and so forth. The plump aunt makes herself comfortable in an armchair of crushed velvet, swinging a bulging right thigh over one wing and a gabeliform left across the other. She dramatizes the parting of her labia, as wrinkled and baggy as elephant skin, in order to expose a clitoris the size of my thumb, then pulls her niece's head to it by the ponytail. Obviously she wants to do the talking for a while. I learn first of all that the exchange principle under the Reds worked like esperanto, meaning each got what he needed according to what he had to give. Your self and your labor relations coincided in lucid non-alienation, a principle hookers know by instinct and may even have invented in the days of troglodytes, certainly before Peter the Great, my big bellied whore snorts, nodding her head in the direction of his memorial statue, The Bronze Horseman, two blocks west and across the river, on Angliskaya. I retreat, then return with a copy of Pushkin's poem: "Chilled by the breath of bleak November the city lay dismal and sombre while the restless river flung wildly against the granite banks, tossed like someone in bed with a fever." Hard to escape the climate of Petersburg, as you can see. When she leans up from her aunt's pussy to take a breath and wipe the sweat from her brow, the niece's spine forms a question mark, individual vertebrae the steps of a ladder cut into the face of a smooth chalk cliff. Her skin is that porcelain in the gray afternoon light's glare. No content under late capital, she manages to burble, her chin shining up at us. Her aunt lifts her ears to let her speak, with a sigh that tells me she thinks the child has been spoiled rotten. We were the self-comprehension of revolutionary need, she states proudly, in touch with the conditions for a perpetual critique of the system. Now everybody loves the false consciousness America brings with its blue jeans and its discos. I saw Rolling Stones last year at Champs de Mars and those guys are ready for Lenin's tomb, let me tell you. Rock and roll, my heinie. The aunt's had enough and returns the little face to the swollen and pre-capitalistically hairy vulva leaking something that darkens the cushion of the chair. The pregnant clitoris wags like a dog's tail just before the niece's mouth engulfs it. At the same time the aunt begins to stand up, her cleavage glistening, her hips shaking, and for the first time I discover that the niece has her arm imbedded inside her aunt's box almost to the elbow. It's been so dark down there, what with the kid's head and the wet chair and the shadows of a waning winter afternoon, that I've missed just about everything. Before I can get to the Polaroid the aunt whinnies like a horse and sprays a stream of viscous aromatic fluid that puddles on the three hundred year old marble floor, then splashes my shoes six feet away and runs like a dozen canals toward the fireplace as deep as the entrance to a mine. When she extracts it on her knees at the old whore's feet, the teen's arm is soaked and sparkling with ejaculate which she licks methodically from between her fingers. The aunt rests a hand on her shoulder to steady herself. She looks woozy. Even if we were to start over again, the niece says meaning bolshevism I think, it would require revisiting Hegel to see if Marx got him wrong the first time around. The three of us head to the bathroom, though actually the youngster and I are trundling after the aunt who looks pooped. No fucking Hegel for me, she says sitting down to pee, no fucking way.

Marx wrote that an increase in the quantity of purchaseable goods can only increase exponentially the number of swindlers who justify their swindling because they too are swindled. You cannot therefore protect yourself against buying what either will not work as promised, or last as long as promised, or be necessary as promised, so you must accumulate great wealth for the purpose of buying as many goods as possible in order to find the few that for a limited time will fulfill even a portion of their promises. The value of your money therefore declines in proportion to the number of goods produced by and for richer and richer swindlers who however comprise the ruling class of capitalism and as a result do not need to tell themselves or each other the truth. Indeed if they told the truth to themselves they would have to tell the truth against each other, and the entire enterprise would collapse under the weight of so much truth telling. They would in effect be telling the police force they possess to arrest them for being dishonest enough to need to possess a police force. Even more than the bolshevists the capitalists cannot escape the paradoxes that leave them wealthy and miserable. It's simple. There can never be enough money when money is the object, even though there's nothing you won't do to get it. Capitalists will even convince themselves money is something else. For example, money is free speech if you buy a politician with it. Not only is it legal, it's your duty as a citizen to accumulate enough money to own a politician. Anything less is unpatriotic. Wealth is patriotism, and the use of it to gain influence is super patriotism, for which you get such awards as the Medal of Freedom if you live long enough to buy enough politicians to vote you the medal before you die. If you're very lucky your widow will get it for you after you're dead because you left her so much money she's decided you weren't just a patriot or a super patriot but a saint. Marx said all this when he noted that in capitalist economies logic is the money of the mind. By which he meant that the analytic tools employed by capitalist thought presume what is good for corporations is good for everybody, even though corporations, as we know, can't help but swindle everybody because they too are being swindled. I've heard your side of it, I say to the fat whore who wipes her snatch with a tissue, I'm just surprised the name Hegel could trigger such a rage. That's because you haven't had to read him in the original, she says washing her hands. We sigh with a collective disappointment at the gaps in my knowledge. We look around at the mirrors in their ornate gold leaf frames two hundred years old. In the parlance my sluts have mastered, I slap down several stupefying examples of irrefutable logic. The aunt pinches her nipples between two sets of clamps connected by a heavy metal chain the niece pulls sharply until the three of us are standing in the shower where one handcuff of a pair is already locked around the curtain rod.

It may be late in the day, I say figuratively while looking out the window where in fact it is, but I'd like to point out that in the preface to Kapital Marx is explicit that his human beings are to be understood not as breathing urinating creatures but as types. For a moment I forget that I won't anymore find Marx on the hotel's bookshelf to show them the quotation. The handcuffs look like they're gnawing at the fat aunt's wristbones, though the curtain rod is just the right height to keep the big tart poised on tiptoes, which I suspect is even more painful. Marx's types, I suggest to the women, are in turn neither the folk on the streets of London nor the teeming masses of Russian history. The girls look daggers. He was a statistician who missed home so he mythified German workers out of their bigotry, incuriosity and patriotism into a cheerful spontaneous internationale not especially different from the idiotic creatures in a Wagner opera. Aleksei in wonderland, I say trying to ease the tension in the bathroom. The teen is so vexed she nearly tears off one of her aunt's nipples. Is this what I'm paying for? On the other hand, without utopia, Marxism is accounting at its dullest. Money is not the root of evil, I conclude to the one slut pinching the other slut's nipples with pliers, it's the absence of money that is. I see that I need to make it clear that while I don't mind jumper cables being attached to the nipple clamps, a cattle prod to the twat is a little latin for my taste. The whores seem disappointed, as though they've worked up a good cattle prod act, though it might be my screed that's flattened their beers. Nuclear deterrent, the porky aunt says into an underarm that hasn't been shaved since the city was called Leningrad. The niece is fiddling with wires and metal that enclose her aunt's breasts, neck, buttocks, feet. Very complicated stuff. Noisy too. Auntie knows, the nymphet trumpets, she used to blow a physicist. I look at the face clenched in discomfort, I lift an eyebrow that means she can say anything she wants. She says the people never understood that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction were based on the mutually shared secret that both Bolshi and Capitalist missiles would have exploded either in their own silos or within their own borders. Americans pulverize Americans, Soviets Soviets. The real deterrent was the failure of nuclear technology. She grimaces as the ankle cuffs click closed. Any last words? her niece asks before shoving a ball gag between her teeth. The ball is red and rubber, the kind a terrier chases across a park.

While the aunt gets used to the myriad agonies of cuffs, suspension, swaddling, clamping, tugging, and piercing, the niece lights smokes for the two of us. She muses on having once personified an economic category, being a type, which gave her a sense of belonging to something greater than herself instead of a lost subjectivity among millions of others. She doesn't know why I would object except that Americans have no sense of the racial pride the rest of the world, and probably the universe, has. Americans were conceived to be a freak nation, full of strangers, at birth the kind of freak should get his nose held by a doctor or a nurse. Producer and consumer was never so dialectical as when a client shot his wad up my tush or down my throat, she says with nostalgia. Now all the dialecticians I used to know are comedians for the television. Not stand-up comedians even, these guys have to sit down they're so depressed. Her aunt moans so the brat burns her breast with the cigarette. Shut the fuck up, she says. Sure, there used to be rivalries, cold wars, world wars, some diasporas, even some genocides. Now government and business are married, which is nothing less than interspecies intercourse. No more bombs, but contracts as long as your dick. The old antagonisms have gone away. Remember, Hitler said you have to break some Eis if you're going to make an Umlaut. Even we, the aunt and I, respect the new order, the niece says dripping hot wax onto the plumped clitoris hanging by weights six or seven inches above the shower floor. That's why we've brought a waiver you must sign before we can go further with this sex business. She leaves her aunt hanging in the shower, takes me by the belt buckle out of the bathroom and into the vast foyer where her purse is buried under her clothes. She unfurls a document with a cyrillic letterhead and an embossed stamp at the bottom. Sign at the arrow, she tells me snapping open a ballpoint, then bending to offer the pillow of her buttocks as a desk. It's in Russian, I complain. You don't trust us, then we can go away. I didn't say that I didn't trust you, I say. I had my tongue in your rectum, she reminds me, that should mean something. Of course it does, I reassure her. Not many whores today put a tongue in a heinie, she informs me. I believe you, I reply. Could be the AIDS up there, she says. It doesn't work like that, I explain. You're a doctor? she asks. No, I'm not. I know you're not or you wouldn't have whores with their tongues up your heinie. Are you going to sign or are you going to what? What? I ask. I thought so. I bet you want to know what it says. Not if you say I don't need to know, I say, I trust you cunts to tell the truth. She tells me to take down my pants and bend over, she'll put her tongue in my ass again if it'll make me feel better about the waiver. Never mind, I say. I sign and give her the paper. You hold it, she says, returning to the bathroom where a few seconds later I hear a blood curdling scream from the aunt. The niece reappears. See how much better now that you've signed? What did I sign? I ask. I don't mind saying, she says. It says if you die in our hands, it isn't our fault, but if we die in yours you or your estate, should you die too, are liable for damages. Of course you have an umbrella rider so what's to worry. Answer the door, the little whore says just before the buzzer buzzes. It's room service, represented by a very old bony man, a valet out of Chekhov, including the stoop. I tell him I didn't order Dom Perignon and he tells me to read the fine print in the contract. Instead I look from the French doors over the balcony at "the chaste inclement winter with its bracing still air, the lusty bite and pinch of frost." Pushkin, just before there's a party full of courtesans, just before "the hiss and sparkle of iced champagne."

Room service has disappeared with the hookers in the shower, a stately space but rapidly crowding. When I enter he's holding a pink rubber bag above his head, no easy task at his age, while my hairless pixie inserts the nozzle of a thick tube up her aunt's behind. We hear a groan from the colorful ball gag and can already detect the beading below the victim's eyes, which are a watery amber reminiscent of Emma Bovary in front of her fireplace in Rouen. You've read it, you know what I'm talking about. I sit on the lid of the toilet and light a Gauloises, suddenly imbued with the gallic nature of the torture being performed, as if the French invented the enema's sexual significance because no Russian has that much imagination. It may not be true, I admit to myself, but it feels true. With his free hand, room service uncorks the Dom and sets it trickling into the soft tube shaped for the moment like the ears of a rabbit. Or the face of a duck. The fat aunt prances in place when the champagne cools her bowels. Having signed the contract I'm overcome by fellow feeling, as if our day together must be free from tigers. If many such contracts with whores have come to trouble, it would certainly not only be in the newspapers and on television but would have passed into the common cautionary rules of my colleagues. Whatever you do, I'd have been told in Brussels, don't sign a whore's contract. She'll turn up dead and you'll be behind bars at The Hague. Instead signing the contract suggests a larger vision attached to the enterprise of hiring the whores in the first place: a dynamic vision with a demonstrable history, a traceable institution of rules and norms of behavior, a safety net of pimpdom even though pimps are to my knowledge one eon earlier than politicians in evolutionary history. It's more than that, I conclude sipping that French fag. My unfettered id is connected by law to all the other unfettered ids signing the contract. No shame or guilt can be attached to the mayhem that diverts me from the truer tortures of doing business in post-Soviet Russia. Given the contract the unsocial, even harmful deeds I want performed seem less vain and voyeuristic, and somehow less trivial. If there is a contract there is a law, and if there is a law there is an ethical theory. Perhaps, since it is Russia, even a theory of the sublime. The aunt's asshole swallows the magnum before I can finish my thought. Room service clears out not only from the shower, but the bathroom and then the suite, saying he wants no part of what's going to happen next. Because of the contract I don't have that luxury.

Andrei Biely, St. Petersburg: "Slowly the rows of walls darkened against a waning lilac sky, sparkling torches burst into flame. Small fires flared here and there. In the gray misty light, staring points appeared in the windows: candles, lanterns, gaslamps, great, small, minute. From overhead night fell blue, then purple, then black." Under the strain of keeping a magnum of Dom Perignon in her viscera, the expansive bottle blonde's belly undulates like the tide's rolling in. The niece tugs at the chain holding the nipple clamps in place, which causes the aunt to whimper behind the ball gag but also, I assume, distracts her from the cramps of the enema she's holding. Once she removes the nozzle the methodical niece orders her patient to wait for permission to release her bowels. Punishment for accidents will be as swift and violent as for outright disobedience, she says indicating the generator attached to the jumper cables attached to the chain that provides the weight so the clamps will bite like a wolf. The aunt pleads for mercy behind her gag, slobbering and sounding like she has a cleft palate. No accidents, the niece insists, like in Freud. She slaps the stretched face, then says oops, sorry, to prove her point. She tickles the hairy slick armpit until the aunt squeals with breathlessness. The youngster gives the ears finger flicks and the aunt starts sniffling. This is so annoying that I have to set my book aside. I tell the bony bitch to give fatso a jolt to shut her up, something like the wakeup call when your screwdriver hits the live wire in your wall socket. If she doesn't shut up then I'll have to punish the punisher, I say tweaking one of the niece's prominent ape-like nipples. Now you've done it, she says to the aunt flipping the switch with her thumb. When the charge hits the aunt bites down on the ball gag and her nipples smoke. The thighs quake and the buttocks tighten so you couldn't force the stem of a rose between them. They're tight like the ass of a polar bear on an ice cap. Tight like a new skydiver's. Like the guy heading for heart surgery. Instead the flabby slut micturates a transparent rush that soaks her niece's legs and splashes my shoes five feet away. First ejaculate, now piss, I think staring at my Gucci's. I can tell by the young one's look that her aunt is in for inhumane treatment so I reach across the dangerous floor and unplug the generator. The smirk the kid returns tells me the punishment isn't going to be as simple and direct as electrocution. I guess that's why I'm the customer and she's the professional.

The aunt's tears are genuine. Enemas don't distinguish between actors and the audience. Trying to breathe around a ball gag, that too is a real detail even in a movie. Being clamped at her huge nipples, which by now resemble bruised plums, the aunt can't pretend the pain. As the waif studies the suffering it occurs to me how emboldened she's become since I signed the contract. Does she inherit from the aunt's estate my financial penalty if she kills her? When I start to imagine blood being drained from that beefy neck it occurs to me I needed an attorney's advice while I still had the advantage. Before I can stop the child from torturing her elder she's positioned herself behind the aunt's clenched rump. While she tries to part the cheeks the aunt struggles to keep them closed. It only takes a determined finger however, and the aunt's punishment begins. The child is covered head to foot from an explosion of champagne the color of caramel. The sound alone sends me out of the room, and the sounds of the aunt and her niece groaning their respective experiences keeps me out of it. I think I start to groan. The aunt sobs then, uncontrollably, because she understands perfectly that her punishment has been her niece's degradation. I stare at the cave of night on the opposite side of the French doors. I could use a literary moment but settle for a breath of balcony air that shuts my nose and throat immediately. You've seen this sort of thing, you know what I'm getting at. Under bolshevism, I holler from the balcony, what just happened would have dialecticity, am I right? I hear the shower, then laughter, then the sound of playful spanking, a private moment I wouldn't interrupt for the world. Just as quickly the squirrelly adolescent appears covered in suds at the distant door, shivering from the cold thanks to me. Think parable, she says with frustration before dashing back into the bathroom and closing the door. Instead I stare at the frozen Neva, its history, the wedding and honeymoon night Catherine, also great like Peter, designed for a prince. He and his bride slept on a bed of ice under the ceiling of a palace of ice while the queen and her courtiers sat on chairs on the frozen river playing cards until the sun rose and cheers went up because the bed linen was bloody. Russians, I think shaking like a leaf, even though Catherine, as you know, never fucked a horse.

Watching the women get comfortable in terry robes at the fireplace, breaking open the bourbon since we've squandered the Dom, it occurs to me it's the time of the evening for meaningless banter. Dour Brahms is on the radio, the ladies have cowhide under their eyes from the day's labor. At last I can loosen my necktie and unlace my pitiful shoes. Each of us sinks into a deep palatial armchair to take in the music and watch the lights of Petersburg's streets flicker in the wind. While the lithe kidlet leans back as if she's home, her aunt studies a woeful nipple damaged by clamps, teeth or the electrical charge, even she can't tell. In any case she's leaking fluid and the thing hurts. Then she too takes it easy, covering the big boob in her robe and smiling so I won't feel responsible. We're so relaxed that I retrieve from the bedroom the small painting, Fyt's Fruit and Parrot, from the seventeenth century and, until recently, happy in the Hermitage across the river. Simple and direct, the painting loves grapes in particular. The bird, poised on what looks like a cabbage with a branch, is of course absurd. Still someone can't wait to hang it over the mantle. I tell the whores I've relocated numerous paintings from most of their nation's museums. From Azerbajan to the Pushkin I've saved art from the new freedom. I pour more blasts of bourbon all around. Everyone is going to want more of everything, I remark over the Brahms, so there'll be less of anything to go around. Where can the new more be had? From the things that weren't once property, I answer to no one in the room. The tiny provocateur opens an eye, then another and finally creeps on her fours to the Fyt nestled at the foot of a table. First thing she does is run a finger across it, the sort of hostile gesture I think is only the tip of her glacier. You're stealing this? she asks with quiet reverence. No, I assure her, but in any case I would only be stealing it back. I'm simply cleansing you of foreign influences. Hard currency, though not yours, is involved. You will keep some for yourself? she asks. I sit beside her, look into her eyes, her mouth is slipping toward a pout, so I touch her hair, short, black and straight, the way I'd comfort my own daughter. My freedom, I emphasize, depends on eliminating the attractions of this world because first I've only yearned for what I couldn't have, had what I didn't want and come to detest the brainless idiot I ever was to have yearned in the first place. This sort of freedom takes money? the philosopher asks. Lots, I tell her, but not too much, as in too much leisure time or too much vodka. Or too much nookie, she adds with the laugh she uses among her friends. Since the aunt's curled up like a cow in a meadow I show the niece a few things that haven't been crated. Landscapes by Uden, Wouwerman, Vinckeboons, Both, and Lijtens. Still lifes by Claesz, Heda, Heem, Ryckhels, Weenix, and Schrieck. Portraits, only three: Cuyp, Pickenoy and Honthorst. Want more Dutch? Flems? VanLeyden, VanScorel, VanOost, VanLint, VanKessel, VanPoelenburgh, VanGoyen, VanDerWilligen, VanDerWontigen, VanDerNeer, VanDerFaar, VanDerCroos, VanDerWok. VanRijn, VanRuisdael, VanDyck -- VanRich if you own just those three and burn the rest.

The erection I've grown is something of a surprise, though the hooker has wondered what's taken so long. She sets it free and we stare at it like a piece of sculpture. Not so long, not so thick, she comments without touching. Nice job of cutting, she says surveying the hat and the neck. She pauses, she thinks. That boner's so stiff, she tells me, you must be a neurotic Jew. She looks deeply into my eyes for a sign. Jews are faithful husbands, the cunt explains, as if that's a compliment. Down our street when I was a little girl we had a rabbi who talked to my father because my mother complained that Papa had a mistress. The rabbi told him that you don't cook in your neighbor's pot. Instead of whoring my father stayed home and drank and beat my mother. I didn't blame the rabbi, he couldn't know because Jews don't beat their wives even though once he said to my father, it's better to die of thirst in the desert than be married to a woman who argues. Then one night my father got so drunk he beat my mother and fucked me. I didn't blame the rabbi because not only don't Jews go with whores or beat their wives, they also don't fuck their daughters. When my mother stabbed my father to death the rabbi came running. She told him everything that had happened since my father had stopped whoring because of his words. The rabbi said that finally everything was as it should be in our family. My mother and I were horrified. As for your daughter, the rabbi said cradling my head into his arm, she's a warrior of God, invincible, a righteous child, from now on call her Lilith. He kissed my forehead and began to leave. My husband is dead, mother reminded him in tears. He kissed her forehead too. Do you know why Jewish men die before their wives do? he asked. She shook her head. Because they want to. The scourging whore of God's righteous Marxist army asks if she should suck my dick since it isn't very hard anymore. Jews, she says, also like to put it into the ass. She offers me hers if I think it would help. Once they've made their babies, she informs me like a scholar, they give it to their wives in the mouth and the heinie. Anyplace that keeps it from spilling on the ground. If they spill their seeds on the ground dicks can grow without people attached and that's a Jewish sin. Jews can't jerk off and go to heaven because there are never enough Jews to go around. When Hitler killed six million of them, that was half the lot because too many Jewish men had been jerking off. If all those jerk-off Jews had been fucking there'd've been so many more Jews, meaning so much more money and brains, Hitler would've been too scared to touch one kinky hair of a Hebrew head. Imagine fifteen million Jewish soldiers invading Hitler's Germany. See, she says, I knew you're a Jew. The hard-on is back! Once the whores are tucked to the chin in the four-poster as big as a house I eat a lobster and watch the television repeat the Berlin wall being sledgehammered. It's the way Petersburg television says good night.

Since I'm paying for it I slowly and silently remove the comforter and linens from the bodies of the two sluts. The Brahms is in my head only because I can't get it out of it. The youngster sound asleep has the left breast of Reynolds' Zone of Venus, the behemoth the belly and thighs in Rubens' Bacchanal of 1615. You've seen the paintings, you know what I'm talking about. The chess table beside the bed, where we left half our oysters uneaten, was carved in Steen's Backgammon, though the oysters themselves are in front of the grapes of the Cornelis still-life from the little museum in Odessa. As for the wine glass dumbo tipped over on her way to the bedroom, it's out of Claesz's equally no named still-life I liberated from the Kramskoi in Voronezh. The women, we used to say before late capitalism, are lying naked, no longer nude. Even before that, when they were by any standard nude, they weren't my nudes. Over the oysters the niece, who in fact is the aunt's daughter, had shown me a photograph depicting her fellating a mastiff. This was once a big deal, she said wistfully, and it was hard work for anyone to find this picture. I'll bet, I'd agreed. Because it was rare it was shocking, so that meant, she said, as with your paintings, there was an idea behind it. I must have been sceptical. Because of this photograph, she insisted, everybody looked at big dogs differently. I slid an oyster along her throat, then a sip of bourbon. It used to be a grainy black and white photograph men cherished and kept hidden, she had told me. Now it's in color, I don't know how, and I'm just a pockmarked dog fucker during a bad hair day. This was when Lilith actually became embarrassed to be topless, her mother comforted her, I handed her a brioche and pointed to her empty pussy, and the Brahms mercifully ended. The orgy was dangerously close to lacrimony, very Russian after liquor in winter. Her mother helped Lilith get her legs over her head so she could nibble the brioche without using her fingers. The first thing freedom does, she said with a chocolate moustache, is make you nostalgic for the meaning of freedom. That was when I covered them and told them no incestuous hanky panky before going to sleep. And share that brioche.

"If Petersburg is not the capital," writes Biely in 1905, "then the only Petersburg is in the imagination." Sentences like that take decades just to misunderstand. That's if you're on top of things in the first place. Do the whores get it? I ask them. Yes but the meaning is untranslatable, especially if you're an entrepreneur in the era of late capitalism. All the palaver has made me ornery so I tell the sluts to dress and clear out. Once they have their clothes on, the daughter isn't as young as I remember. She slides a wedding ring in place, a nothing ring but symbolic of a vow. Her mother, who doesn't resemble her daughter in the least, dresses like a grandmother's corpse in a blue taffeta heel length dress devoured by infinitesimal fleurs-de-lys. When she removes a champagne wig her hair is the thin midnight blue of, well, an old whore. They see I'm staring so they explain they came over straight from church. I stop thinking because the mother could be Gertrude Stein's clone. The blue job on her head has been a hat that she removes so I see the fronds of cropped gray hair combed forward. She's nobody's mother, she's a dyke. Not one of Rubens' Sabine victims. Lilith gets comfortable by tossing on a sweatshirt that reads University of Princeton. She reaches over, I think, to shake my hand so I extend mine but she's simply checking the time on my watch. Rolex, she says laughing at my politeness. She tells Gertrude it's nearly time to pick up her son from day care. The sense of normal life sickens me. Now I want a blowjob. I tell Lilith she needs to blow me before she leaves. I'm the only one of us who hasn't come, I say, and I've done all the paying. They're at once apologetic, annoyed and under a time constraint. I'd slap somebody except that's one of the ways they make a living so it wouldn't mean what it should. Lilith cozies up and tells my chest that where I'm concerned her twat and her throat are full to the brim with cement. A Berlin wall of cooze, she jokes. I'm frantically in love with her. If she doesn't know it, Gertrude Stein does. The old dyke takes care of my erection with the suddenness and authority a farm wife uses to break a chicken's neck between her fingers. The semen lands on my Guccis. Lilith hasn't seen a thing because she's standing by the door as if somebody else is going to open it. Then she steps toward me. I never minded it that women, police, priests, even my clients and their little sons who wanted a free peek at my titties despised what I did because what they despised was the desire in themselves to be with me or to be me. I didn't despise my decision to be what they wanted. Now nobody despises anything, she says. Reified pussy, Gertrude Stein clarifes. I wouldn't cross the street, Lilith says, to save your soul.

The wind on the balcony is a knife at the throat, though nightfall is cloudy enough to turn the moon green on the Neva's frozen surface. I stand watching children skate and try to absorb the depth of the hooker's insult, which isn't easy because she's a Petersburg Marxist. I wouldn't save anybody's soul either, whatever that means, and I'm not a Marxist. At most I'd tell somebody to save his or her own soul, or maybe try to save other people's souls so long as it isn't mine. I would have assumed Marxists need to have their own souls saved. Jehovah's Witnesses are always trying to save souls, especially those of Jews. They get a special chair, I think, at the seventh trumpet for converting a Jew. Jews for Jesus are big on saving the souls of Jews who aren't for Jesus. They'd better hope Jesus isn't only Jesus or the Christian Messiah but the Jewish Messiah because the Jewish God doesn't give a shit about saving Christians. Maybe now that Marxism is cold mackerel the Marxists need to save souls. Maybe Jehovah's Witnesses are right this minute looking for Marxists to save. I don't know what Lilith meant. I understand God better than I understand women, and I never think of God unless someone else brings God up, which isn't very often. Many of the paintings I relocate are abundant with religious themes, with which I have made myself familiar, but for strictly penurious reasons. Lilith believes something I don't and even though I don't she insults me with what she believes. If the opportunity arose I would tell her I wouldn't let her save my soul if she begged me to let her. That's how sentimental things get in Petersburg. That's late capitalism in Petersburg in the dead of winter. I know Petersburg like the back of those whores' legs. On the boulevard dividing me from the skaters and the Hermitage and the Palace, teenagers used to throw themselves under tanks. Later young women would bare their breasts as an act of liberation and defiance, in the name of freedom. Today a Petersburg girl bearing her breasts along the river couldn't get a date let alone arrested. Before late capitalism in Petersburg a hooker would have been happy to save a soul. Between the Moscow mafia and Sartrean objective neurosis, after the collapse of Karl Marxism who has time for soul saving? Like a sentence out of the nineteenth century, I remove the Guccis, hold them into the gale swirling around the balcony and let them drop to the granite riverbank where they roll onto the frozen surface of the Neva. When the ice melts the water that takes its place will either sink the shoes or turn them into boats. I won't know.