“‘We Played Under Your Window’” (short story) by Vladimir Shcherbakov
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970)
Original: Russian (Мы играли под твоим окном …), 1966
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1966
Synopsis: Prior to Sergey’s twenty-year-long trip out of the solar system to investigate stellar fields, his wife left with their son. The only thing he really wanted upon his return was to see his son, but time has been unkind to the hero and he knows not of their whereabouts. Now, having returned, Sergey goes back to his neighborhood with fond memories of the children, whom he used to spoil, much to the annoyance of his neighbors. Two things surprise him: one old neighborhood child meets him at him home, and a cosmodrome representative informs him that they have no record of his landing.
Analysis: Sergey had just realized his life-long destiny of touring a star; this is regardless of the fact that his wife had left him with their son. Upon completion of his mission and his subsequent return to earth, Sergey is filled with pride yet only borders on the enlightenment of self-actualization (as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). With his wife and only child missing, he only needs the bolster of respect to support him in his own self-actualization; meanwhile, he can stand proud of achievements.
Much like in the workplace where respect can be garnered from three directions—below: subordinates; on-level: peers; and above: superiors—Sergey finds himself in an awkward position upon his return to earth. He holds fond his memories of having treated the neighborhood’s children well and, in return, they reflect their attention to him as he returns, albeit older; thus, he has won respect from the younger generation (akin to subordinates). As for his peers, he’s widely known to be the foremost explorer of the State as his accomplishments are unsurpassed; thus, his admiration and/or respect from peers is so high that it’s at a tacit level. From his superiors, however, respect is, upon his return, withheld due to his incredulous story.
Even after returned from a solo mission to and from the stars, his superiors don’t even grant him the respect he deserves; that small division between respect-giving and respect-withheld is the gossamer-thin fact that his return was never documented. He left, did his duty, and returned as an aged man, yet his superiors refuse to believe, against all other indicators, that he completed his State-given mission. The children, on the other hand, openly receive the once warm man even though they, too, have no tangible evidence of his mission: to treat his subordinates (read: the younger generation) with respect.
Thus, Sergey will be held in limbo between the levels of Esteem and Self-actualization merely because of tangible proof, a facet of modern so-called logic that is intangible according to the minds of the very people who consider the “proof” as valid.
High-level organizational chivalry is dead; long live the warm pleasures of proof.
Review: The analysis of the story is much more involved than the actual delivery of the story, a warning label of which I should fix upon most of my short story analyses. In essence, Sergey remembers his return to the village but not the actual landing, an event that mystifies him and the scientists in the field. The actual cause of the discretion is predictable. Thereafter, another predictable element comes into play that further dilutes the story.