“I’ll put out the candles,” said Lichonin.
The morning half-light, watery and drowsy, filled the room through the slits of the blinds. The extinguished wicks of the candles smoked with faint streams. The tobacco smoke swirled in blue, layered shrouds, but a ray of sunlight that had cut its way through the heart-shaped hollow in a window shutter, transpierced the cabinet obliquely with a joyous, golden sword of dust, and in liquid, hot gold splashed upon the paper on the wall.
“That’s better,” said Lichonin, sitting down. “The conversation will be short, but ... the devil knows ... how to approach it.”
He looked at Jennie in abstraction.
“Shall I go away, then?” said she indifferently.
“No, you sit a while,” the reporter answered for Lichonin. “She won’t be in the way,” he turned to the student and slightly smiled. “For the conversation will be about prostitution? Isn’t that so?”
“Well, yes... sort of...”
“Very well, then. You listen to her carefully. Her opinions happen to be of an unusually cynical nature, but at times of exceeding weight.”
Lichonin vigorously rubbed and kneaded his face with his palms, then intertwined his fingers and nervously cracked them twice. It was apparent that he was agitated and was himself constrained about that which he was getting ready to say.
“Oh, but isn’t it all the same!” he suddenly exclaimed angrily. “You were to-day speaking about these women ... I listened... True, you haven’t told me anything new. But-strangely-I, for some reason, as though for the first time in my loose life, have looked upon this question with open eyes... I ask you, what is prostitution in the end? What is it? The extravagant delirium of large cities, or an eternal historical phenomenon? Will it cease some time? Or will it die only with the death of all mankind? Who will answer me that?”
Platonov was looking at him intently, narrowing his eyes slightly, through habit. He wanted to know what main thought was inflicting such sincere torture on Lichonin.
“When it will cease, none will tell you. Perhaps when the magnificent Utopias of the socialists and anarchists will materialize, when the world will become everyone’s and no one’s, when love will be absolutely free and subject only to its own unlimited desires, while mankind will fuse into one happy family, wherein will perish the distinction between mine and thine, and there will come a paradise upon earth, and man will again become naked, glorified and without sin. Perhaps it may be then...”
“But now? Now?” asks Lichonin with growing agitation. “Shall I look on, with my little hands folded? ‘It’s none of my affair?’ Tolerate it as an unavoidable evil? Put up with it, and wash my hands of it? Shall I pronounce a benediction upon it?”
“This evil is not unavoidable, but insuperable. But isn’t it all the same to you?” asked Platonov with cold wonder. “For you’re an anarchist, aren’t you?”