Mark Budman: “Lenin: Red, White and Blue” from a Novel in Progress

They brought Lenin to what looked like a hospital room and a female doctor in her mid thirties did a physical. A crowd of people looked on. Lenin didn’t resist. Deeply inside, he was curious. What would they find inside him? Would they explain the miracle of his aliveness? A scientific explanation would be ideal.

“Strange,” the doctor said. She was the only woman in the group. She would have looked like a distinguished physician from an advertising poster of a medical school, complete with a pristine white coat and gold-rimmed glasses, if her coat hadn’t been so short and her eyeliner so thick. One of the men, a uniformed cop with a major’s stars on his shoulder boards, had already touched her a few times, but she hadn’t complained.

“Strange,” she repeated, looking at the ultrasound results. “Most of the major internal organs such as liver and lungs are shrunk, but they are still present and functional.”

“So what?” a very large man in suit and tie said.  He introduced himself as the Politician-in-Charge. His bushy eyebrows and the prematurely wizened, square face made him look like Brezhnev, the Soviet leader of the eighties, and because of that his career probably hadn’t developed as well as he had hoped it would. “The organs shrink with time. Isn’t it so, Dr. Litvinova?”

“My balls don’t shrink with time,” the major said. “And my penis even grows with time. Wanna look, doctor?”

“The organs are not supposed to be here at all,” Doctor Litvinova said. “They should have been removed during the embalming.”

“The chambers around the organs are not filled with embalming herbs,” she dictated into a portable recorder. “They all are gone… Testicles are larger than normal and the erection is easily initiated … Blood tests show an amalgam of substances in reddish, syrupy liquid instead of blood… Normal pulse and the body temperature… Strange but not unpleasant smell, perhaps with a hint of pheromones…”

“My balls are larger than normal, too,” the major said. “And erection is easily initiated.”

“Why do you think he’s alive, doctor?” the Politician-in-Charge asked.

“Who knows? It could be anything. Chernobyl fall-out. Tainted vodka. The neo-pagans. The Monarchists. Imported sugary snacks. Liberal democrats. American spies. Gypsies. Zionists. The agrarian party. Jihadists. Leaded gasoline. Moldy bread. Chechens.  Chinese-made plastics. New Russians. Georgians. Space aliens. NATO. Socialists. Tree huggers. Drag queens. Buddhists. City Hall. Guest workers from Moldova. Why is anybody alive in Russia?”

“Don’t forget the tear gas,” the major said. “We had a lot of demonstrations in the Red Square lately. And the Jews. You forgot the Jews. That’s inexcusable.”

“Philosophy aside, doctor,” the Politician-in-Charge said. “Why is he alive?”

“I gave you a philosophical answer because there is no scientific one. He shouldn’t be alive. He wouldn’t be alive anywhere else but in Russia.”

“Are you folks with the White Guards?” Lenin asked.

“No, we are not,” the Politician-in-Charge said.

“Perhaps you are Bolsheviks?”

“We are not Bolsheviks either. My name is Andrey Petrovich Bubkin. I’m the President’s Senior Adviser, and I’m in charge here.”

Lenin’s chin dropped. “You’re confusing me, folks,” he said. “Since when does this country have a president?”

“Let me ask you a question, sir,” Bubkin stepped closer. His ‘sir’ didn’t carry even a hint of respect somehow. “What’s your name?”

“Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich.”

“Do you remember how you got here, sir?”

“In some kind of a motor vehicle. Very strange construction.”

“What about before that?”

“Before that I lived on the streets. What has happened to me?”

“And before that?”

“I don’t quite remember. I think I slept. I talked to a man, to a janitor, but it may have been a dream…”

“Do you remember what happened in 1917?”

The Leader straightened up and pronounced in a loud, well-articulated voice, “The Revolution, which we, the Bolsheviks, were prophesying all along, finally took place. We, the Bolsheviks, took power to serve the working people of the world.”

“I always wanted to ask you,” another man asked. “Why did you show so little respect for democracy?” His fashionable glasses, Dockers pants and preppy shirt made him look like a young American college professor.

Lenin turned to him. His eyes were aflame.

“Democracy is a tool of Imperialism,” he said, shaking his fist. “It was designed to confuse the masses. That’s what happened in February of 1917. The bourgeoisie manipulated the election process and put Kerensky in power. Who was he? A lawyer, bad actor, womanizer, and draft dodger.”

“Were you not a lawyer and womanizer?” the professor-look-alike asked. “Were you not the inventor of the Gulag and the reign of terror? Didn’t you order to shoot college professors by the dozens?”

“Listen,” Lenin said. “I’m losing my patience. I’m the Leader of the Soviet Union. You’re treating me like a criminal, detaining me against my will. I demand to make a phone call.”

“Be my guest,” Bubkin pointed to a wall telephone.

“Do I need a coin?” Lenin had seen people using the modern phones, though he had never had a chance to make a call himself.

“No coins.”

The Leader picked up the receiver and stood there, waiting.

“What happened?” he said finally, frowning at Bubkin. “What happened to the phone girl?”

“You don’t need no phone girl,” the major said. The size of his mustache would have shamed the best grenadier of Peter the Great and his uniform’s buttons shone with unhealthy fire. “Just dial the number,” he said. “Press the buttons. You still remember your math, don’t you?”

The Leader pressed a couple of buttons. His face suddenly lit up. “Miss,” he shouted. “Miss, please connect me with Felix Dzerzhinsky. The Iron Felix.”

Then his face lost whatever traces of color it still had. “She’s repeating the same thing again and again.”

“What does she say?” Litvinova asked. Lenin turned to her. His face held a mixture of rage and bewilderment. “If you want to make a call, please hang up and dial again.”

They injected Lenin with tranquilizers and put him to bed in a locked room with a barred window. As if that weren’t enough, they handcuffed him to the bed. The eye of the camera on the ceiling watched him closely. Two cops in riot gear, armed with AK-47s, guarded the door.

“I don’t know,” Bubkin said, trying to smooth his hair, electrified by static and fear. “We all thought that the Chechens or the Georgians stole his body. But he’s alive! Now, I don’t know what to think and whom to blame. Could it really be Lenin? The Lenin? Alive? Could this be a hoax? If it’s a hoax, I’ll be kicking ass.”

“Beats me,” Litvinova said. “The way things happen in Russia, nothing surprises me anymore.”

“What should we do?” Bubkin said. “The way he is, we can’t put him back in the Mausoleum. I mean, he might refuse to lie still when the visitors come.” He began to pace around the room.

“The people deserve to know the truth,” the faux professor said.

“What is truth?” Litvinova said.

“Philosophy again,” Bubkin said. “Who’s asking you anyway?” He turned away from Litvinova and covered his face with his hands. “What should I report to the President?”

“Maybe he will be dead again soon,” the major said, lighting a cigarette. “Then we won’t have a problem. Dead people lie still as a rule.”  And he burst into laughter.

“I hope you’re not talking about the President?” Bubkin said.

“Hell, no. Do I look suicidal to you? I’m talking about the fucking mummy.”

“He’s no mummy anymore,” Litvinova said. “He’s a living being, and he deserves to be treated as such.”

“And he is a handsome man,” she added under her breath. “Much handsomer than any of you.”

“Just think of the political implications of Lenin being alive,” Bubkin said. “The Communists could use him. The Monarchists could use him. The Mafia could use him. We are wide open! We are naked! We are surrounded!”

“That’s a thought,” the major said. “About the Monarchists.”

Bubkin stared at him, but the major returned the stare unblinking. Bubkin resumed his pacing.

“I wonder if he dreams now,” Litvinova said dreamily.

“Yeah, what kind of dreams would a mummy on tranquilizers have?” the professor’s doppelganger said.

“I have an idea,” Fyodor Andreevich Kaminsky, Bubkin’s aide said. Everybody but Dr. Litvinova stared at his thin face with its huge, dark-blue eyes.

“Remember, we were thinking of sending Lenin’s body abroad for a traveling exhibit, to collect currency and for some PR?” Kaminsky adjusted his frameless glasses. He was the only one with the command of English in Bubkin’s office, so he knew his worth. “Why can’t we do that with the living body? Imagine him telling all these authentic historical tales? Making his famous speeches once again? Just moving in front of the crowd? The West might pay very well. Even if they are in a crisis. And PR. Will show them that we are tolerant and forgiving.”

“What is PR?” the major asked. “Is that what we used to call propaganda?”

Everybody was quiet for a moment, chewing on the idea. Only the major chewed loudly, the way he ate.

“I like that,” Bubkin said. “It has a poetic beauty to it and works on many levels.”

“Hard currency’s always nice. Especially in the right hands,” the major said.

“But that’s inhumane,” Litvinova said. “He’s not a lion, or a bear or a robot.”

“In our day and age everybody has to make a sacrifice to Mother Russia,” Bubkin said. “Including former mummies.”

“But we can study him,” she said. “Maybe we can find a solution to resurrecting other people. A solution to immortality.”

“Believe me, honey, you don’t want dead heroes of the past running around here and meddling in other people’s affairs,” Bubkin said. “I’m going to call the President right now. I’m sure he will like my idea.”

“I categorically oppose—” the fake professor began.

“The decision is already made,” Bubkin interrupted. “Too late. Next time you should react more swiftly. Sorry.”

“I don’t like this. Don’t like this at all,” the phony professor said. “I’m going to complain.” And he left, banging the door as loudly as possible.

Dr. Litvinova winced at the bang. “If he’s really Lenin, I wonder why he didn’t say something profound?”

“Politicians ain’t philosophers. They ain’t paid to say profound things. They are paid to cook up laws and massage their own egos,” Bubkin said. He sighed. “This country’s going down the drain. Only a miracle will save us.”

“Some miracles look like sleight of hand,” Dr. Litvinova said.

Bubkin’s cell rang. He flipped it open and snapped to attention at the sound of the voice in the receiver.


Three weeks later, an armored car of a style obsolete since World War I, its guns and engine removed, was parked on the lawn of the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York. A man in his fifties, in a black suit, a starched white shirt and an old-fashioned tie, stood on top of the car, vocalizing in Russian, shaking his fist above his head, and clutching a proletarian cap in his other hand.

Cold drizzle fell on the heads of his entourage. It consisted of Vera—Lenin insisted on her being here, officially as his secretary—a butler-bodyguard-cook, who stood next to Lenin with a giant red umbrella; the former aide Kaminsky, now the already tired head of Lenin’s Cultural Exchange Event; the sulking Dr. Litvinova, and a translator so featureless that he could have been a member of the secret police of any country.

A small crowd of American spectators bristled with umbrellas of all colors of the rainbow, but mostly black. The crowd applauded politely at the right times, cued by the speaker’s gestures and facial expression. They paid twenty dollars a head—cash, check or credit card. The University’s Russian Study Department provided free accommodations and food for the entourage as well as the manpower to move the disabled armored car to its vantage point.

A few hard-core anti-Communists with a placard proclaiming “Lenin, well, go back to hell!” demonstrated behind a thin line of cops. Their umbrellas were identical to those of the people on the other side.

The next day, the Russians were supposed to leave for Chicago, for an even more receptive, large and cash-rich audience. The Event was a smashing success, a miraculous event in a long chain of Russian raising and failing, but mostly failing enterprises.


Read Mark’s interview with WIPs about his work  on Lenin: Red, White, and Blue