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The butterfly

Officers never go off their rockers. They simply must not go off their rockers. They ought not to, in principle. But it’s true there are occasional instances of it. I remember a particular officer who was serving on the “Grozny”, the destroyer. As well as three other posts, he also held the post of the mate. They didn’t let him on dry land for a year. At first, he begged, like a dog at the door: he kept applying and almost whining, but then he fell silent in the corner and went mad. He was taken off the ship, put in a military hospital, later he was taken somewhere else, and then transferred to the reserves.

People say that when he was being taken off the ship, he was laughing happily like a child. That does happen here, of course, but more often than not, the officer starts pretending to be mad in front of the surrounding personnel, he behaves like an idiot because he wants to be transferred to the reserves – the officer, that is, – so he plays the fool.

Before, it wasn’t so easy to be transferred to the reserves; before, you either had to drink like there was no tomorrow or, as I already said, play the fool. But you could only play the fool when you had some talent for acting, when you had the appropriate physiognomy, when you had an inclination for improvisation, for playacting, or maybe even pantomime…

We once had a daredevil onboard. When toy butterflies on wheels went on sale in the local children’s shops, he bought one for himself.

The butterfly was manoeuvred around with an attached stick: you’d have to walk around, pushing the butterfly in front of you, holding on to its stick; this also made the butterfly wave its wings.

He took it to his post, everyday, to work and then back home again. This went on for a long time: the butterfly happily ran alongside him.

The moment he began taking the butterfly around with him, he also changed: he was quiet all the time and smiled. People tried to talk to him, to chat, to trick him into talking. They dragged him from doctor to doctor. And he went everywhere with his butterfly: the door would open and the butterfly would squeak its way to the doctor first, he himself was in tow.

And he went to the division commander with the butterfly, and to his commanding officer.

Doctors shrugged their shoulders and said that he was healthy… although…

“Now, then, look this way… no… everything seems to be… touch your nose.”

The doctors shrugged their shoulders and declared him fit. Soon, he was transferred to the reserves. His pension would see him out. The deputy head of the political section personally took him to his train in consideration of his serious condition. The deputy even helped him carry some of his luggage.

The faithful butterfly ran alongside, fluttering around strangers’ legs and veering around suitcases. It flapped its wings for the last time in front of the train: he climbed into the carriage but left his inseparable friend on the platform. The deputy saw it and broke out in a sweat.

“Vadim Sergeich!” shouted the deputy, grabbing the butterfly – after all, what if something were to happen in the carriage without the butterfly, he might throw himself out of the moving train to get it – the deputy would never be acquitted. “Vadim Sergeich!” the deputy was choking. “The butterfly… you forgot your butterfly…” The deputy was panicking, trying to find the door to the carriage.

“No need,” he heard a voice from above, raised his head and saw him, calm, in the window. “No need”, he said, looking down with wonderfully clear eyes, “keep it for yourself, my dear sir. I rolled it everywhere with me, now it’s your turn…” And, on that note, he left, and the deputy was left alone.

Or, rather, he wasn’t alone, he was with it: with the butterfly…

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