TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 1901. Sergei Ivanovich, a poor student, returned home, still in his labcoat, from a night of walking the streets of St. Petersburg. He decided to make his way mostly through alleys, for people are fewer there. And all his mother had given him (crushing love, helpful criticism when he was least able to take it, wisecracks about his father’s insatiable womanizing) had only been setting him up all these years for demonic possession. And whom did he find in his home when he got there, but the very smoldering devil himself.

Sergei’s heart turned to lead: he had not after all avoided this thing that everyone had predicted. But Sergei felt obliged, in company like the devil’s, to act like an aristocrat. And so he hid his feelings, and urbanely offered his guest a snifter of brandy.

The devil said, “Why Sergei Ivanovich, look at you, wandering the streets of St. Petersburg all night like some spectral bohemian. To look at you one might think you had some golden-hearted prostitute on your mind.”

And Sergei Ivanovich thought to himself, “The mark of an aristocrat is to be able to enjoy other people’s misconceptions.” And so he said, “Why you old rascal, how is it you know about my Nadezhda?”

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And so the two aristocrats (the old and the genuine, the young and pretending) spoke deep into the night about all kinds of problems that Sergei Ivanovich did not have.

But isn’t that the way it always is with the devil: we pretend to be something we’re not, we talk about problems we don’t have, and then in the morning we must trudge through the snowy streets of St. Petersburg, back to the Medical University, and open up the cadavers of real people.

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