“When You Return” (short story) by Igor Rosokhovatsky
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970)
Original: Russian (Каким ты вернёшься?), 1966
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1967
Synopsis: Out of the blue, little Vita is helped by the avuncular figure of a man—Valery Pavlovich. The man says he’s on vacation and would like to take the girl to Prague. Visiting her mother, Valery declines food while Ksana eyes the man with familiarity—has she seen him in a painting with her husband prior to being widowed? It soon becomes clear that Valery is actually a synhom (synthehomo) who can fly with its own jets and read other’s minds. His history, however, is not so superhuman—he only wants the most human of things.
Analysis: In a capitalist society, as opposed to a communist one, subjective and intangible gulfs separate us all, be it gender, age, class, or occupation. We don’t dig them chasms by ourselves, rather, our society deems these classifications—among others—important, so we situate ourselves where we are and see other as who they are not: us. It’s this mindset that acts on a variety of levels itself: passively (I am me and you are you and that’s OK) and actively (I am me who is better than you and that’s a fact). Regardless, the gulf exists; sometimes it’s a calm channel of acceptance and other times it’s the turbulent ocean of racism, sexism, etc.
Let’s say that the modern era of communism actually achieved equality for all genders, ages, classes, and occupation—they are created equally and live as equals. What would be the next step of possible discrimination? The answer: perhaps those who are actually created unequally, such as Valery Pavlovich.
Aside from the young girl’s perspective through her innocent eyes, Pavlovich’s welcoming into Vita’s home is tepid at best. Her mother remains steeled against whatever the man-cum-machine has to say. Behind his back, Vita’s grandmother is even harsher against his nature, thereby supplying the read with three generations of perspective: the young and open innocent child, the steeled and experienced mother, and the wizened yet discriminate grandmother.
Their discrimination rests only in the fact that he is not equal to themselves: he can fly and he can read minds. Regardless of his given talents, however superior, the mother and godmother initially refuse to accept the walking and talking person as just that—as person. Only when the truth is revealed does one of them take an about-face becoming so readily to accept what she had once shunned.
Review: At first, this story is a little creepy: A young girl takes an older man’s kindness in hand then takes him to her family’s home. He tells her that he wishes to fly her to Europe so that they could visit a toy factory together, Compound this with the fact that the man—nay, a synthetic human—can fly on his own means, and this story has a dull, creepy feeling to it. When it becomes certain that the man’s feelings for the girl are actually more paternal than predatory, the story takes on an emotional aura that carries on through the end. There are a few heart-strings to tug, for sure, but it’s a nice story.