I wrote this when I was courting my Russian (largely) wife to be (largely Russian, not largely wife) . I was in St Petersburg reading Gogol. Courtship, at least in its early stages, is not full-on and, for its idle hours, Gogol is a good companion. In one of his stories, the ‘Nose’, Major Kovalyov’s nose decides to lead an independent life. Next morning, Kovalyov wakes up, sees his noseless face in the mirror, panics and sets off to complain to the Chief of Police. To Gogol and his ‘Nose’, the ‘Neck’ tips its hat – so thank-you Gogol wherever you are now, and thank-you Natasha for not sending me packing.
We had let our house for a week. Natasha and Katya had gone to America to see (grand)parents and I to the west coast. Far enough, but not so far I couldn’t get back if the boiler burst, the shower ceased to pump, the roof sprung a leak. I had taken a room overlooking the Sound that runs between the mainland and Skye. I spent hours watching the water, but don’t ask me why this particular story came to me then. It just did.
Cryptogram has, sandwiched between its main narratives set in the middle of the 21st century and the middle of the 13th, six short stories. They take place in different times and places, but their purpose is to cast an oblique light over the two men and the woman who are the central characters of the book. This is one of the six.