Late in the evening the boy is waiting for his beloved woman – then in the arch of the yard, then in the front house, where she should come to her friend. He is afraid to miss her. Mom does not know where he went: he said that he is following the compass to his friend. Finally, he climbs into the apartment of her friend, but she says that his beloved never came. The boy is sure that he is deceived. He imagines how he will die – pale, thin – and like a beloved woman will cry over him. Or how he will come to her many years later – gray curls will fall on his forehead, without hiding a deep scar – and say: “It’s late, it’s too late.”
The boy hears behind the closed door the voice of a beloved and a man and sees her herself when the door opens for a moment. The man leaves. The boy is waiting for her to come out. She goes out, calm and beautiful, explains to the boy that they just missed each other, and promises to meet him tomorrow. The boy goes home, feeling the weightlessness of his body and thoughts, and thinks that everything was as it was, she said.
In the last pre-New Year’s days, Alexei expects a call from Asya. Asya divorced her husband and takes a corner in Nina’s apartment, her friend, who lives with her father. Most often, Alex and Asya meet in the garden on a bench. Alex wants to celebrate the New Year together. Asya says that she needs to buy a dress from the pawnshop, that she loves Alexei, wants to go with him in the summer to the south, but he will not have money to get, and therefore she will not go with him. Returning home on the Fontanka, Alexei suddenly realizes that he feels life neostro and lazily – not at all like six months ago, when everything with Asya was just beginning and he was jealous of her, waiting for hours in the entrances and stairs. Then he thought that love demands truth and clarity, and now love has become for him above clarity, he is ready for ignorance.
Alexei must finish the last control so that he was admitted to the institute examinations. Mom makes sure that he is engaged in business; she does not like Asya. Left alone in a communal apartment, Alexei steals from the neighbor’s room bonds and, selling them, buys Asino dress from the pawnshop. He goes to Asya to celebrate the New Year and thinks whether she went to the Astoria, where her ex-husband meets the New Year.
Eve is not possible alone: Nina comes unexpectedly with her friends. Alex and Asya leave the house and sit on the stairs, and then go home. The next day they try to find a haven outside the city, with friends, but those are not at home. The theft of bonds is revealed, and Alexei has to go through the shame of their return. Closing in his room, he reads an old book about love. He is amazed by the thought that love does not come from a beloved, casual and tiny one, and not from a person himself, also extremely small. Then where?
Monakhov’s wife expects the child, she was put in hospital for preservation. Standing under the window of the hospital, Monakhov feels uneasy every time because of the touchingness of this scene. Once, on the way to the hospital on the bus, he meets Asya. They have not seen each other for many years, and now Monakhov compares with the original the image of Asya, preserved by him in the anguish of the rupture. Nothing coincides, there is a disintegration of the image, and Monakhov feels relief and curiosity. Asya disagrees with another husband, is going to marry again. On the street she shows Monakhov his fiancé. Monakhov enters the kindergarten, where she works as a manager. Then they travel along Asina’s girlfriends in search of a free apartment. They again, like ten years ago, have nowhere to retire. From Asheny kindergarten, where they try to find shelter at night, Monakhov has to flee. He feels the slackness of his desires, confusion over the turbidity and vagueness of their own sensations, the painful impurity of life experience. Returning home, he rejoices that nothing has happened. At home, the mother informs him of the birth of his son and kisses him in an unconscious, eliminating cheek.
Monakhov comes on a business trip to Tashkent, where his parents now live. He had not seen his father for three years. He tells his parents about his alien life: about the capital, about a career, about a young wife and a new apartment. Walking along the street, he meets Natasha, whom he loved three years ago and with whom he broke up. Natasha still loves him, and suddenly Monakhov realizes that, if he were himself, she would be his only woman. He decides to leave his parents early and spend the last Tashkent days with Natasha. She gets acquainted with her boyfriends. One of them, eighteen-year-old Lenechka, writes poems that delight Monakhov. Looking at Lenechka, Monakhov remembers himself in the years of his love for Ace and is appalled at the fact that he did not understand at that time how terrible his poor life was. Sitting in the airport, Monakhov suffers, that before time left his parents, and tries to understand what he is by himself – without his titles, successes, work and family. A young soldier accidentally dies on the airfield before his eyes.
At home, his quarrel with his wife is waiting. Monakhov feels that he spent a whole life in Tashkent last week, and understands why his wife is jealous. And suddenly it seems to him that his father could have died in the time that he spent with Natasha. His soul is washed by the live current of the last strength of the feeble father and lets in all the surrounding pain. The death of a soldier, whom he had seen recently, gave Monakhov the last drop of life that he so lacked.
Monakhov goes on a train and thinks about death. Then this thought goes away, and the landscape outside the window leaves, and only the long taste of the patty in the mouth remains. On the train, Monakhov gets acquainted with a good, simple and intelligent girl whom I do not want to deceive. The girl looks like a woman he once loved, only the name is different – Light. Monakhov suddenly becomes frightened, shocked by this similarity, although before it did not occupy the similarity of people and circumstances.
Monakhov decides to start a new life. He takes leave and takes a room in the village, opposite the grave of Pasternak. It seems to him that the surrounding landscape has been utterly destroyed by a dead poet, and he is trying to understand whether Pasternak’s poems were worth eliminating a small area. He does not go to the grave, fearing the repetition of the “rhyme” of time – that is, reminders of life that it exists regardless of its existence, Monakhov. Monakhov is afraid of these hints of being, he does not try to grasp the flashed secret meaning of life, so as not to damage the old life fabric. But he still has to go to the grave to show her the coming Light. At the cemetery, he is amazed at how similar monuments are to those to whom they are placed. It seems to him that eminent deceased clung to life, that their position, tastes, vanity did not go away with death. Returning home,
Monakhov has to leave the village to bury the dead grandmother of his wife. The funeral takes place in a church standing in an empty and quiet Moscow alley. Monakhov seems that everything around survived thanks to this church. After the burial service, he kisses the deceased person dead on the forehead, and suddenly it seems to him that taste is the last living feeling still available to his keratinized consciousness. At the cemetery, he realizes that Asya really died. He remembers yesterday’s idyll of the dead, similar to their monuments, and feels that in his soul there is a calm, healthy, living hatred. “He saw evil, he knew no doubt, he understood that he was quite ready to answer for his sins.”
“It seems that my life force has taken me down, evidently, the spirit was not enough – they are waiting for me… It seems that the road to God is really too long, too expensive and much… Lord, forgive me!”