Daniil Harms. Selected stories
* Даниил Хармс. Избранные рассказы. Старуха. (пер. на англ.) *
Russian literature seems always able to bring forth a crop of new and
interesting writers who are experimenting somewhere at the frontiers of
literary style, language or story. Among our contemporaries, we think of
Andrey Sinyavsky (alias 'Abram Tertz'), Vasiliy Aksyonov, Sasha Sokolov and
Yevgeniy Popov, along with the women writers who emerged under glasnost',
during the last Soviet years: Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Tatyana Tolstaya and
others. But alongside the new writers, we continue to rediscover the old.
Mikhail Bulgakov and Andrey Platonov, unexpected jewels from the Stalinist
period, only came to prominence decades after their own span. Discoveries
from the 'Silver Age' period (roughly the 1890s to 1917) are still coming or
returning to light. Neglected figures from even further back are now
achieving or recovering a belated but deserved readership (Vladimir Odoevsky
from the Romantic period, Vsevolod Garshin from later in the nineteenth
century). Another fascinating figure, the contemporary of Bulgakov and
Platonov, but with a peculiar resonance for the modern, or indeed the
post-modern, world is Daniil Kharms.
'Daniil Kharms' was the main, and subsequently the sole, pen-name of
Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov. The son of a St. Petersburg political, religious
and literary figure, Daniil was to achieve limited local renown as a
Leningrad avant-garde eccentric and a writer of children's stories in the
1920s and 30s. Among other pseudonyms, he had employed 'Daniil Dandan' and
'Kharms-Shardam'. The predilection for 'Kharms' is thought to derive from
appreciation of the tension between the English words 'charms' and 'harms'
(plus the German Charme; indeed, there is an actual German surname 'Harms'),
but may also owe something to a similarity in sound to Sherlock Holmes
(pronounced 'Kholms' in Russian), a figure of fascination to Kharms.
From 1925 Kharms began to appear at poetry readings and other
avant-garde activities, gained membership of the Leningrad section of the
All-Russian Union of Poets (from 1926), one of the many predecessors to the
eventual Union of Soviet Writers, and published two poems in anthologies in
1926 and 1927. Almost unbelievably, these were the only 'adult' works Kharms
was able to publish in his lifetime. In 1927 Kharms joined together with a
number of like-minded experimental writers, including his talented friend
and close associate Aleksandr Vvedensky (1900-1941) and the major poet
Nikolay Zabolotsky (1903-1958), to form the literary and artistic grouping
Oberiu (the acronym of the 'Association of Real Art').
Representing something of a union between Futurist aesthetics and
Formalist approaches, the Oberiut considered themselves a 'left flank' of
the literary avant-garde. Their publicity antics, including a roof-top
appearance by Kharms, caused minor sensations and they succeeded in
presenting a highly unconventional theatrical evening entitled 'Three Left
Hours' in 1928, which included the performance of Kharms's Kafkaesque
absurdist drama 'Yelizaveta Bam'. Among the Oberiu catch-phrases were 'Art
is a cupboard' (Kharms normally made his theatrical entrances inside or on a
wardrobe) and 'Poems aren't pies; we aren't herring'. However, in the
Stalinising years of the late 1920s, the time for propagating experimental
modernist art had passed. The rising Soviet neo-bourgeoisie were not to be
shocked: tolerance of any such frivolities was plummeting and hostile
journalistic attention ensured the hurried disbandment of the Oberiu group
after a number of further appearances.
Kharms and Vvedensky evidently felt it wiser to allow themselves to be
drawn into the realm of children's literature, writing for publications of
the children's publishing house Detgiz, known fondly as the 'Marshak
Academy', run by the redoubtable children's writer (and bowdleriser of
Robbie Burns), Samuil Marshak, and involving the playwright Yevgeniy
Shvarts. By 1940 Kharms had published eleven children's books and
contributed regularly to the magazines 'The Hedgehog' and 'The Siskin'.
However, even in this field of literary activity, anything out of the
ordinary was not safe. Kharms, in his 'playful' approach to children's
writing, utilised a number of Oberiu-type devices. The Oberiu approach had
been denounced in a Leningrad paper in 1930 as 'reactionary sleight-of-hand'
and, at the end of 1931, Kharms and Vvedensky were arrested, accused of
'distracting the people from the building of socialism by means of
trans-sense verses' and exiled to Kursk. However the exile was fairly brief,
the times being what Akhmatova described as 'relatively vegetarian'.
Nevertheless, little work was to be had thereafter; Kharms was in and out of
favour at Detgiz and periods of near starvation followed. Kharms and
Vvedensky (the latter had moved to the Ukraine in the mid-30s: see Kharms's
letter to him) survived the main purges of the 1930s. However, the outbreak
of war brought new dangers: Kharms was arrested in Leningrad in August 1941,
while Vvedensky's arrest took place the following month in Kharkov.
Vvedensky died in December of that year and Kharms (it seems of starvation
in prison hospital) in February 1942. Both were subsequently 'rehabilitated'
during the Khrushchev 'Thaw'. Most of their adult writings had to await the
Gorbachev period for publication in Russia. Both starvation and arrest were
anticipated in a number of Kharms's writings. Hunger and poverty were
constant companions; indeed, Kharms can lay claim to being the poet of
hunger (not for nothing did he take strongly to Knut Hamsun's novel of that
name), as the following translation of an unrhyming but rhythmic verse
This is how hunger begins:
The morning you wake, feeling lively,
Then begins the weakness,
Then begins the boredom;
Then comes the loss
Of the power of quick reason,
Then comes the calmness
And then begins the horror.
On his general situation in life, Kharms wrote the following quatram in
We've had it now in life's realm,
Of all hope we are now bereft.
Gone are dreams of happiness,
Destitution is all that's left.
The arrest of Kharms came, reportedly, when the caretaker of the block
of flats in which he lived called him down, in his bedroom slippers, 'for a
few minutes'. He was apparently charged with spreading defeatist propaganda;
there is evidence that, even in those times, he managed to clear himself of
this charge, possibly by feigning insanity.
Kharms had been a marked man since his first arrest in 1931 and he was
probably lucky to escape disaster when he landed in trouble over a
children's poem in 1937 (about a man who went out to buy tobacco and
disappeared). In addition, his first wife, Ester Rusakova, was a member of a
well-known old emigre revolutionary family, subsequently purged; it is
intriguing to recall that Kharms had been, for several years, Viktor Serge's
By the 1930s, Kharms was concentrating more on prose. In addition to
his only then publishable works, his children's stories and verse, he
evolved ('for his drawer') his own idiosyncratic brands of short prose and
Theoretical, philosophical and even mathematical pieces were also
penned, as well as diaries, notebooks and a sizeable body of poetry. The
boundaries between genre are fluid with Kharms, as are distinctions between
fragment and whole, finished and unfinished states. Most of Kharms's
manuscripts were preserved after his arrest by his friend, the philosopher
Yakov Semyonovich Druskin, until they could be safely handed on or deposited
in libraries. It will come as no surprise to readers with the most cursory
inkling of Soviet literary conditions in the 1930s that these writings were
then totally unpublishable -- and indeed that their author is unlikely to
have even contemplated trying to publish them. What is much more surprising
is that they were written at all. From 1962 the children's works of Kharms
began to be reprinted in the Soviet Union. Isolated first publications of a
few of his short humourous pieces for adults followed slowly thereafter, as
did mentions of Kharms in memoirs. Only when Gorbachev's policy of glasnost'
took real effect though, from 1987, did the flood begin, including a major
book-length collection in 1988. Abroad, an awareness of Kharms and the
Oberiuts began to surface in the late 1960s, both in Eastern Europe, where
publication was often easier, and in the West, where a first collection in
Russian appeared in 1974. In 1978 an annotated, but discontinuous, collected
works of Kharms began to appear, published in Bremen by the Verlag K-Presse
(appropriately enough, the 'Kafka Press'), edited from Leningrad. Four
volumes (the poetic opus) have appeared to date. It is probably safe to
assume that virtually all of Kharms's surviving works have now appeared. The
most recent 'find' is a selection of rather mild erotica, largely clinically
voyeuristic and olfactory in nature, which suitably counterpoints certain
tendencies already noticeable in some of Kharms's more mainstream writing.
The English or American reader may have come across some of Kharms's work in
the anthologies published from 1971 by George Gibian (see p. 226). In
addition, scholarly literature on the Oberiuts is growing fast. Kharms
translations have appeared in German and Italian, while the Yugoslav
director Slobodan Pesic has made a surrealistic film, called 'The Kharms
Case'. In Russia Oberiu evenings and Kharms 'mono-spectaculars' have become
commonplace and Moscow News (back in 1988, in its Russian and English issues
alike) was proclaiming Kharms 'an international figure'. In the present age
of post-modernist fragmentation, Kharms's time has surely come.
On the assumption that Kharms's published oeuvre may now be more or
less complete (and this may still be a big assumption to make: only in 1992
his puppet play, The Shardam Circus, was published for the first time),
overall assessments of his achievement begin to assume some validity.
Definitive texts from archival sources have, in some instances, replaced
dubious sources. We now know the intended order and content of the
'Incidents' cycle, here presented as a complete entity for the first time in
English. Many of the later examples of Kharms's prose have only come to
light recently, as have notebooks and letters. The prose miniature has long
been a genre more commonly found in Russian literature than elsewhere. Among
the disparate examples that come to mind (many of them by authors very
different from Kharms) we may mention, from the nineteenth century: the
feuilletons of writers such as Dostoevsky, the prose poems of Turgenev and
the shortest works by Garshin and Chekhov; and, from the twentieth, short
pieces by Zamyatin, Olesha and Zoshchenko and, more recently, the aphoristic
writings of Abram Tertz and the prose poems of Solzhenitsyn. In spirit,
Kharms clearly belongs to a tradition of double-edged humour extending from
the word-play and irrelevancy of Gogol and the jaundiced mentality of
Dostoevsky's 'underground' anti-heroes to the intertextual parody of Tertz
and the satirical absurd of Voinovich. Kharms has clear affinities with
certain of the experimental Soviet writings that sprang from a Futurist
Formalist base in the 1920s. In a verse and prose sequence entitled 'The
Sabre' (Sablya of 1929), Kharms singles out for special admiration Goethe,
Blake, Lomonosov, Gogol, Kozma Prutkov and Khlebnikov. In a diary entry of
1937, he lists as his 'favourite writers': Gogol, Prutkov, Meyrink, Hamsun,
Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Such listings are revealing in determining
Kharms's pedigree. On a general European level, Kharms had obvious
affinities with the various modernist, Dadaist, surrealist, absurdist and
other avant-garde movements. Borges wrote brief masterpieces in a rather
different vein. Arguably, Kafka and Beckett provide closer parallels, while
Hamsun and Meyrink furnished Kharms with certain motifs. Some of the
post-modernist and minimalist writings of very recent decades are perhaps
closer than anything else.
'The Old Woman', a story reaching almost epic proportions by Kharms's
standards, has strong claims to be regarded as his masterpiece. A
deceptively multilayered story, this work looks simultaneously back to the
Petersburg tradition of Russian story-telling and forward to the
meta-fictional devices of our post-war era. 'Incidents' signals a
neo-romantic concern with the relationship between the fragment and the
whole (observable too in the theoretical pieces) and, now in its 'complete'
form, it has begun to attract critical interpretation as an entity in
itself. The 'assorted stories', arranged chronologically, indicate the
development of Kharms's idiosyncratic preoccupations over the decade from
the early 1930s. 'Yelizaveta Bam' represents Kharms's contribution to the
theatre of the absurd. The remaining 'non-fictional and assorted writings'
give an idea of Kharms's excursions into other forms of writing.
If Kharms still seems somehow different from all previous models or
comparisons, or more startling, this is perhaps most readily explained by
his constant adoption, at various levels, of what might be termed a poetics
of extremism. Take, for example, his brevity: not for nothing did he note in
his diary that 'garrulity is the mother of mediocrity'. If certain stories
included here (especially some from 'Incidents') seem texts of concise
inconsequentiality, there remain others which incommode the printer even
less: consider, for instance, the following:
"An old man was scratching his head with both hands. In places where he
couldn't reach with both hands, he scratched himself with one, but very,
very fast. And while he was doing it he blinked rapidly."
Another feature of Kharmsian extremism resides in his uncompromising
quest for the means to undermine his own stories, or to facilitate their
self-destruction: there are numerous examples of this in the texts which
Kharms, then, turns his surgical glance on both the extraordinary world
of Stalin's Russia and on representation, past and present, in story-telling
and other artistic forms. He thus operates, typically, against a precise
Leningrad background. He reflects aspects of Soviet life and its literary
forms, passing sardonic and despairing comment on the period in which he
lived. He also ventures, ludicrously, into historical areas, parodying the
ways in which respected worthies, such as Pushkin, Gogol and Ivan Susanin (a
patriotic hero of 1612) were currently being glorified in print. Certain of
Kharms's miniatures seem strangely anticipatory of modern trends: 'The
Lecture' could almost have been set in politically correct America,
'Myshin's Triumph' smacks of London's cardboard city, and 'On an Approach to
Immortality' would fascinate Kundera.
The most striking feature, for many readers, will be the recurrence of
Kharms's strange and disturbing obsessions: with falling, accidents, chance,
sudden death, victimisation and all forms of apparently mindless violence.
These again are often carried to extremes, or toyed with in a bizarre manner
which could scarcely be unintentional. Frequently there appears little or no
difference between Kharms's avowedly fictional works and his other writings.
In his notebooks can be found such passages as:
"I don't like children, old men, old women and the reasonable
middle-aged. To poison children -- that would be harsh. But, hell, something
needs to be done with them! . . . I respect only young, robust and
splendiferous women. The remaining representatives of the human race I
regard suspiciously. Old women who are repositories of reasonable ideas
ought to be lassoed . . . Which is the more agreeable sight: an old woman
clad in just a shift, or a young man completely naked? And which, in that
state, is the less permissible in public? . . . What's so great about
flowers? You get a significantly better smell from between women's legs.
Both are pure nature, so no one dare be outraged at my words."
How far into the cheek the tongue may go is often far from clear: the
degree of identification with narrator position in Kharms is always
problematic. The Kharmsian obsessions, too, carry over into his notebooks
"On falling into filth, there is only one thing for a man to do: just
fall, without looking round. The important thing is just to do this with
style and energy."
At times the implications might seem sinister, as in the following note
from 1940, which could equally be a sketch for a story, or even, as we have
seen, be a mini-story in itself:
"One man was pursuing another when the latter, who was running away, in
his turn, pursued a third man who, not sensing the chase behind him, was
simply walking at a brisk pace along the pavement."
Sometimes, a diary entry is indeed indistinguishable from a Kharms
"I used to know a certain watchman who was interested only in vices.
Then his interests narrowed, and he began to be interested only in one vice.
And so, when he discovered a specialisation of his own within this vice and
began to interest himself only in this one specialisation, he felt himself a
man again. Confidence built up, erudition was required, neighbouring fields
had to be looked into and the man started to develop. This watchman became a
Other entries rather more predictably affirm what might be supposed to
be his philosophy:
"I am interested only in 'nonsense'; only in that which makes no
practical sense. I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestation."
This last remark was written in 1937, at the height of the purges.
Some or all of this may be approachable, or even explainable, in terms
of psychology, of communication theory, of theory of humour, or indeed with
reference to the nature of surrounding reality: in times of extremity, it is
the times themselves which seem more absurd than any absurd artistic
invention. For that matter, these Kharmsian 'incidents' (on which term, more
below) have their ancestry in a multitude of genres and models: the fable,
the parable, the fairy tale, the children's story, the philosophical or
dramatic dialogue, the comic monologue, carnival, the cartoon and the silent
movie. All of these seem to be present somewhere in Kharms, in compressed
form and devoid of explanation, context and other standard trappings.
Kharms, indeed, seems to serve up, transform or abort the bare bones of the
sub-plots, plot segments and timeless authorial devices of world literature,
from the narratives of antiquity, to classic European fiction, to the
wordplay, plot-play and metafictions characteristic of the postmodern era:
from Satyricon to Cervantes to Calvino. In the modern idiom, theatre of the
absurd and theatre of cruelty apart, Kharms's fictions anticipate in some
primeval way almost everything from the animated screenplay and the strip
cartoon to the video-nasty. Kharms offers a skeletal terseness, as opposed
to the comprehensive vacuousness on offer from many a more conventional
literary form. Once again, it is the environment in which he wrote that is
the most striking thing of all. Kharms, the black miniaturist, is an
exponent not so much of the modernist 'end of the Word' (in a Joycean sense)
as of a post-modernist, minimalist and infantilist 'end of the Story' (in a
sense perhaps most analogous to Beckett). Such a trend is usually taken to
be a post war, nuclear-age cultural phenomenon, exemplified by
fragmentation, breakdown and the impulse to self-destruct. However, the
Holocaust and Hiroshima may well have felt imminent in the Leningrad of the
Finally, a word on terminology and arrangement. Many of Kharms's
stories, even beyond the cycle of that name, have been dubbed 'incidents'.
The slightly wider term 'incidences' could equally be used. Kharms, between
1933 and 1937, engaged on a cycle of short prose pieces which he called
Sluchai. The common Russian noun sluchay (masculine, singular) may be
translated, according to context, by a variety of English words: case (cf.
the Italian translation of Kharms, entitled Casi), event, incident,
occurrence, opportunity, occasion or chance. Commentators have at times
labelled the Kharmsian generic innovation: Mini-stories, Happenings or
Cases. 'Mini-stories' is of course descriptive, rather than a translation of
sluchai, just as, say, 'Black Miniatures' would be interpretative;
'Happenings' and 'Cases', I feel, are open to other possible objections.
Hence the term 'Incidents', as used here. Pieces which had not been given a
title by Kharms have generally been called by their first words.
That, as Kharms would say, is all (vsyo!). Now read on!
Kalindov was standing on tiptoe and peering at me straight in the face.
I found this unpleasant. I turned aside but Kalindov ran round me and was
again peering at me straight in the face. I tried shielding myself from
Kalindov with a newspaper. But Kalindov outwitted me: he set my newspaper
alight and, when it flared up, I dropped it on the floor and Kalindov again
began peering at me straight in she face. Slowly retreating, I repaired
behind the cupboard and there, for a few moments, I enjoyed a break from the
importunate stares of Kalindov. But my break was not prolonged: Kalindov
crawled up to the cupboard on all fours and peered up at me from below. My
patience ran out; I screwed up my eyes and booted Kalindov in the face.
When I opened my eyes, Kalindov was standing in front of me, his mug
bloodied and mouth lacerated, peering at me straight in the face as before.
About Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)
Dear Yakov Semyonovich,
1. A certain man, having taken a run, struck his head against a smithy
with such force that the blacksmith put aside the sledge-hammer which he was
holding, took off his leather apron and, having smoothed his hair with his
palm, went out on to the street to see what had happened. 2. Then the smith
spotted the man sitting on the ground. The man was sitting on the ground and
holding his head. 3. -- What happened? -- asked the smith. -- Ooh! -- said
the man. 4. The smith went a bit closer to the man. 5. We discontinue the
narrative about the smith and the unknown man and begin a new narrative
about four friends and a harem. 6. Once upon a time there were four harem
fanatics. They considered it rather pleasant to have eight women at a time
each. They would gather of an evening and debate harem life. They drank
wine; they drank themselves blind drunk; they collapsed under the table;
they puked up. It was disgusting to look at them. They bit each other on the
leg. They bandied obscenities at each other. They crawled about on their
bellies. 7. We discontinue the story about them and begin a new story about
beer. 8. There was a barrel of beer and next to it sat a philosopher who
contended: -- This barrel is full of beer; the beer is fermenting and
strengthening. And I in my mind ferment along the starry summits and
strengthen my spirit. Beer is a drink flowing in space; I also am a drink,
flowing in time. 9. When beer is enclosed in a barrel, it has nowhere to
flow. Time will stop and I will stand up. 10. But if time does not stop,
then my flow is immutable. 11. No, it's better to let the beer flow freely,
for it's contrary to the laws of nature for it to stand still. -- And with
these words the philosopher turned on the tap in the barrel and the beer
poured out over the floor. 12. We have related enough about beer; now we
shall relate about a drum. 13. A philosopher beat a drum and shouted: -- I
am making a philosophical noise! This noise is of no use to anyone, it even
annoys everyone. But if it annoys everyone, that means it is not of this
world. And if it's not of this world, then it's from another world. And if
it is from another world, then I shall keep making it. 14. The philosopher
made his noise for a long time. But we shall leave this noisy story and turn
to the following quiet story about trees. 15. A philosopher went for a walk
under some trees and remained silent, because inspiration had deserted him.
KOKA BRIANSKY I'm getting married today.
KOKA BRIANSKY I'm getting married today!
KOKA BRIANSKY I said I'm getting married today.
MOTHER What did you say?
KOKA BRIANSKY To-day -- ma-rried!
MOTHER Ma? What's ma?
KOKA BRIANSKY Ma-rri-age!
MOTHER Idge? What's this idge?
KOKA BRIANSKY Not idge, but ma-rri-age!
MOTHER What do you mean, not idge?
KOKA BRIANSKY Yes, not idge, that's all!
KOKA BRIANSKY Yes, not idge. Do you understand! Not idge!
MOTHER You're on about that idge again. I don't know what idge's got to
KOKA BRIANSKY Oh blow you! Ma and idge! What's up with you? Don't you
realise yourself that saying just ma is senseless.
MOTHER What did you say?
KOKA BRIANSKY Ma, I said, is senseless!
KOKA BRIANSKY What on earth is all this! How can you possibly manage to
catch only bits of words, and only the most absurd bits at that: sle! Why
sle in particular?
MOTHER There you go again -- sle.
KOKA BRIANSKY throttles his MOTHER. Enter his fiancee MARUSIA.
Ol'ga Forsh went up to Aleksey Tolstoy and did something. Aleksey
Tolstoy also did something.
At this point Konstantin Fedin and Valentin Stenich leapt outside and
got down to looking for a suitable stone. They didn't find a stone but they
found a spade. Konstantin Fedin cracked Ol'ga Forsh one across the chops
with this spade.
Then Aleksey Tolstoy stripped naked and, going out on to the Fontanka,
began to neigh like a horse. Everyone said: -- There goes a major
contemporary writer, neighing. -- And nobody touched Aleksey Tolstoy.
* The story was written on the occasion of the first Congress of the
Union of Soviet Writers and perhaps symbolically depicts the events. The
mentioned persons are all known Soviet literary figures of the 1930x.
Five Unfinished Narratives
The artist Michelangelo sits down on a heap of bricks and, propping his
head in his hands, begins to think. Suddenly a cockerel walks past and looks
at the artist Michelangelo with his round, golden eyes. Looks, but doesn't
blink. At this point, the artist Michelangelo raises his head and sees the
cockerel. The cockerel does not lower his gaze, doesn't blink and doesn't
move his tail. The artist Michelangelo looks down and is aware of something
in his eye. The artist Michelangelo rubs his eyes with his hands. And the
cockerel isn't standing there any more, isn't standing there, but is walking
away, walking away behind the shed, behind the shed to the poultry-run, to
the poultry-run towards his hens.
And the artist Michelangelo gets up from the heap of bricks, shakes the
red brick dust from his trousers, throws aside his belt and goes off to his
The artist Michelangelo's wife, by the way, is extremely long, all of
two rooms in length.
On the way, the artist Michelangelo meets Komarov, grasps him by the
hand and shouts: -- Look!...
Komarov looks and sees a sphere
-- What's that? -- whispers Komarov.
And from the sky comes a roar: -- It's a sphere.
-- What sort of a sphere is it? -- whispers Komarov.
And from the sky, the roar: -- A smooth-surfaced sphere!
Komarov and the artist Michelangelo sit down on the grass and they are
seated on the grass like mushrooms. They hold each other's hands and look up
at the sky. And in the sky appears the outline of a huge spoon. What on
earth is that? No one knows. People run about and lock themselves into their
houses. They lock their doors and their windows. But will that really help?
Much good it does them! It will not help.
I remember in 1884 an ordinary comet the size of a steamer appearing in
the sky. It was very frightening. But now -- a spoon! Some phenomenon for a
Lock your windows and doors!
Can that really help? You can't barricade yourself with planks against
a celestial phenomenon.
Nikolay Ivanovich Stupin lives in our house. He has a theory that
everything is smoke. But in my view not everything is smoke. Maybe even
there's no smoke at all. Maybe there's really nothing. There's one category
only. Or maybe there's no category at all. It's hard to say.
It is said that a certain celebrated artist scrutinised a cockerel. He
scrutinised it and scrutinised it and came to the conclusion that the
cockerel did not exist.
The artist told his friend this, and his friend just laughed. How, he
said, doesn't it exist, he said, when it's standing right here and I, he
said, am clearly observing it.
And the great artist thereupon hung his head and, retaining the same
posture in which he stood, sat down on a pile of bricks.
Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1931
On Phenomena and Existences. No. 1
Here's a bottle of vodka, of the lethal spirit variety. And beside it
you see Nikolay Ivanovich Serpukhov.
From the bottle rise spirituous fumes. Look at the way Nikolay
Ivanovich Serpukhov is breathing them in through his nose. Mark how he licks
his lips and how he screws up his eyes. Evidently he is particularly partial
to it and, in the main, that's because it's that lethal spirit variety.
But take note of the fact that behind Nikolay Ivanovich's back there is
nothing. It's not that there isn't a cupboard there, or a chest of drawers,
or at any rate some such object: but there is absolutely nothing there, not
even air. Believe it or not, as you please, but behind Nikolay Ivanovich's
back there is not even an airless expanse or, as they say, universal ether.
To put it bluntly, there's nothing.
This is, of course, utterly inconceivable.
But we don't give a damn about that, as we are only interested in the
vodka and Nikolay Ivanovich Serpukhov.
And so Nikolay Ivanovich takes the bottle of vodka in his hand and puts
it to his nose. Nikolay Ivanovich sniffs it and moves his mouth like a
Now the time has come to say that, not only behind Nikolay Ivanovich's
back, but before him too -- as it were, in front of his chest -- and all the
way round him, there is noticing. A complete absence of any kind of
existence, or, as the old witticism goes, an absence of any kind of
However, let us interest ourselves only in the vodka and Nikolay
Ivanovich. Just imagine, Nikolay Ivanovich peers into the bottle of vodka,
then he puts it to his lips, tips back the bottle bottom end up, and knocks
it back -just imagine it, the whole bottle.
Nifty! Nikolay Ivanovich knocked back his vodka and looked blank.
Nifty, all right! How could he!
And now this is what we have to say: as a matter of fact, not only
behind Nikolay Ivanovich's back, nor merely in front and all around him, but
also even inside Nikolay Ivanovich here was nothing, nothing existed.
Of course, it could all be as we have just said, and yet Nikolay
Ivanovich himself could in these circumstances still be in a delightful
state of existence. This is, of course, true. But, as a matter of fact, the
whole thing is that Nikolay Ivanovich didn't exist and doesn't exist. That's
exactly the whole thing.
You may ask: and what about the bottle of vodka? In particular, where
did the vodka go, if a non-existent Nikolay Ivanovich drank it? Let's say
that the bottle remained. Where, then, is the vodka? There it was and,
suddenly, there it isn't. We know Nikolay Ivanovich doesn't exist, you say.
So, what's the explanations
At this stage, we ourselves become lost in conjecture.
But, anyway, what are we talking about? Surely we said that inside, as
well as outside, Nikolay Ivanovich nothing exists. So if, both inside and
outside, nothing exists, then that means that the bottle as well doesn't
exist. Isn't that it?
But, on the other hand, take note of the following: if we are saying
that nothing exists either inside or outside, then the question arises:
inside and outside of what? Something evidently, all the same, does exist?
Or perhaps doesn't exist. In which case, why do we keep saying 'inside' and
No, here we have patently reached an impasse. And we ourselves don't
know what to say.
Goodbye for now.
Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1934
Everyone now knows how dangerous swallowing stones is. A friend of mine
even coined the expression 'Dan-in-ston', which means: 'It's dangerous to
ingest stones.' And a good thing too. 'Dan-in-ston' can be easily remembered
and, as required, instantly recalled.
He worked, this friend of mine, as a stoker on a steam engine. He
travelled either the northern line or to Moscow. He was called Nikolay
Ivanovich Serpukhov and he smoked Rocket cigarettes at thirty-five kopecks a
packet, and always said that they made him cough less, while those costing
five roubles, he says, 'always make me choke'.
And so Nikolay Ivanovich once chanced to get in to the restaurant in
the Yevropeyskaya Hotel. Nikolay Ivanovich sat at a table and at the next
table some foreigners were sitting munching apples.
At this point Nikolay Ivanovich said to himself: -- This is interesting
-- said Nikolay Ivanovich -- A man's life this!
Barely had he said this to himself when from out of the blue a Fairy
appeared in front of him, saying: -- My good man, what do you need?
Well, of course, in a restaurant you do get a commotion from which, it
may be said, this unknown diminutive lady may have sprung. The foreigners
even ceased munching their apples.
Nikolay Ivanovich himself rather had the wind up and spoke rather
offhandedly, so as to give her the brush-off. -- I'm sorry -- he said -- but
I don't really require anything in particular.
-- You don't understand -- said the unknown lady -- I -- she said -- am
what is called a Fairy. In the merest jiffy I'll lay on whatever you fancy.
Nikolay Ivanovich happened to notice that a citizen in a grey two-piece
was listening intently to their conversation. The maitre d'hotel was rushing
through the open doors and behind him some other specimen with a cigarette
in his mouth.
-- Bloody hell! -- thought Nikolay Ivanovich -- there's no telling
what's going on.
And there was indeed no telling what was going on. The maitre d'hotel
was leaping around the tables, the foreigners were rolling up the carpets
and generally the devil only knew what! They were all doing whatever they
Nikolay Ivanovich ran out to the street and didn't even pick up his hat
from the custody of the cloakroom; he ran out on to Lassalle Street and said
to himself: -- Dan-in-ston! It's dangerous to ingest stones -- Nothing like
this ever really happens, surely!
And arriving home, Nikolay Ivanovich told his wife: -- Don't be
alarmed, Yekaterina Petrovna, and don't get worried. Only there's no
equilibrium in the world. It's just an error of some kilogram and a half
over the universe as a whole, but it's really a surprising thing, Yekaterina
Petrovna, totally surprising!
And that's all.
Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1934
Andrey Semyonovich spat into a cup of water. The water immediately
turned black. Andrey Semyonovich screwed up his eyes and looked attentively
into the cup. The water was very black. Andrey Semyonovich's heart began to
At that moment Andrey Semyonovich's dog woke up. Andrey Semyonovich
went over to the window and began ruminating.
Suddenly something big and dark shot past Andrey Semyonovich's face and
flew out of the window. This was Andrey Semyonovich's dog flying out and it
zoomed like a crow on to the roof of the building opposite. Andrey
Semyonovich sat down on his haunches and began to howl.
Into the room ran Comrade Popugayev.
-- What's up with you? Are you ill? -- asked Comrade Popugayev.
Andrey Semyonovich quietened down and rubbed his eyes with his hands.
Comrade Popugayev look a look into the cup which was standing on the
table. -- What's this you've poured into here? -- he asked Andrey
-- I don't know -- said Andrey Semyonovich.
Popugayev instantly disappeared. The dog flew in through the window
again, lay down in its former place and went to sleep.
Andrey Semyonovich went over to the table and took a drink from the cup
of blackened water. And Andrey Semyonovich's soul turned lucent.
-- Drink vinegar, gentlemen -- said Shuyev.
No one gave him any reply.
-- Gentlemen! -- shouted Shuyev -- I propose to you the drinking of
Makaronov got up from his armchair and said: -- I welcome Shuyev's
idea. Let's drink vinegar.
Rastopyakin said: -- I shall not be drinking vinegar.
At this point a silence set in and everyone began to look at Shuyev.
Shuyev sat stony-faced. It was not clear what he was thinking.
Three minutes went by. Suchkov smothered a cough. Ryvin scratched his
mouth. Kaltayev adjusted his tie. Makaronov jiggled his ears and his nose.
And Rastopyakin, slumped against the back of his armchair, was looking as if
indifferently into the fireplace.
Seven or eight more minutes went by.
Ryvin stood up and went out of the room on tiptoe.
Kaltayev followed him with his eyes.
When the door had closed behind Ryvin, Shuyev said: -- So. The rebel
has departed. To the devil with the rebel!
Everyone looked at each other in surprise, and Rastopyakin raised his
head and fixed his gaze on Shuyev.
Shuyev said sternly: -- He who rebels is a scoundrel!
Suchkov cautiously, under the table, shrugged his shoulders.
-- I am in favour of the drinking of vinegar -- Makaronov said quietly
and looked expectantly at Shuyev.
Rastopyakin hiccupped and, with embarrassment, blushed like a maiden.
-- Death to the rebels! -- shouted Suchkov, baring his blackish teeth.
Ivan Yakovlevich Bobov woke up in the best possible of moods. He looked
out from under his blanket and immediately spotted the ceiling. The ceiling
was decorated with a large grey stain with greenish edges. If one looked
closely at the stain, with one eye, then the stain took on a resemblance to
a rhinoceros harnessed to a wheelbarrow, although others held that it looked
more like a tram with a giant sitting on top -- however, it was possible to
detect in this stain even the outlines of some city or other. Ivan
Yakovlevich looked at the ceiling, though not at where the stain was, but
just like that, at no particular place; while doing so, he smiled and
screwed up his eyes. Then he goggled his eyes and raised his eyebrows so
high that his forehead folded up like a concertina and would very nearly
have disappeared altogether if Ivan Yakovlevich had not screwed up his eyes
again and suddenly, as though ashamed of something, pulled the blanket back
up over his head. He did this so quickly that from under the other end of
the blanket Ivan Yakovlevich's bare feet were exposed and right then a fly
settled on the big toe of his left foot. Ivan Yakovlevich moved this toe and
the fly flew over and settled on his heel. Then Ivan Yakovlevich grabbed the
blanket with both feet; with one foot he hooked the blanket downwards, while
he wiggled his other foot and clasped the blanket upwards with it and by
this means pulled the blanket down from over his head. 'Up yours', said Ivan
Yakovlevich and blew out his cheeks. Usually, whenever Ivan Yakovlevich
managed to do something or, on the contrary, utterly failed, Ivan
Yakovlevich always said 'up yours' -- of course, not loudly and not at all
so that anyone should hear it, but just like that, quietly to himself. And
so, having said 'up yours', Ivan Yakovlevich sat on the bed and extended an
arm to the chair, on which his trousers, shirt and underwear lay. As for
trousers, Ivan Yakovlevich loved to wear striped ones. But, at one time,
there was really a situation when it was impossible to get striped trousers
anywhere. Ivan Yakovlevich tried 'Leningrad Clothes', and the department
store, and the Passage, and Gostiny Dvor and he had been round all the shops
on the Petrograd side. He had even gone over to somewhere on Okhta but
didn't find any striped trousers anywhere. And Ivan Yakovlevich's old
trousers had worn so threadbare that it was gelling impossible to wear'
them. Ivan Yakovlevich sewed them up several times but in the end even this
didn't help any more. Ivan Yakovlevich again went round all the shops and,
again not finding striped trousers anywhere, finally decided to buy checked
ones. But checked trousers weren't available anywhere either. Then Ivan
Yakovlevich decided to buy himself grey trousers, but he couldn't find grey
ones anywhere either. Neither were black trousers in Ivan Yakovlevich's size
anywhere to be found. Then Ivan Yakovlevich went off to buy blue trousers
but, while he had been looking for black ones, both blue and brown ones also
ran out. And so, finally, Ivan Yakovlevich just had to buy some green
trousers with yellow spots. In the shop it had seemed to Ivan Yakovlevich
that the trousers were not of a very bright colour and that the yellow fleck
did not offend the eye at all. But, arriving home, Ivan Yakovlevich
discovered that one leg was indeed of a decent shade but that the other was
nothing short of turquoise and the yellow fleck positively flamed on it.
Ivan Yakovlevich tried turning the trousers inside out, but that way round
both legs had a propensity to assume a yellow hue embroidered with green
peas and were so garish that, well, just to step out on stage in such
trousers after a cinematic show would be quite sufficient: the audience
would guffaw for half an hour. For two days Ivan Yakovlevich couldn't bring
himself to put on his new trousers, but when his old ones got so torn that
even from a distance it could be seen that Ivan Yakovlevich's underpants
were in dire need of mending, there was nothing for it but to sport the new
trousers. In his new trousers for the first time, Ivan Yakovlevich went out
extremely cautiously. Leaving the doorway, he glanced both ways first and,
having convinced himself that there was no one nearby, stepped out on to the
street and swiftly strode off in the direction of his office. The first
person he met was an apple seller with a big basket on his head. He said
nothing on catching sight of Ivan Yakovlevich and only when Ivan Yakovlevich
had walked past did he stop and, since his basket would not allow him to
turn his head, the apple seller turned his whole person and followed Ivan
Yakovlevich with his eyes -- and perhaps would have shaken his head if, once
again, it had not been for that same basket. Ivan Yakovlevich stepped it out
jauntily, considering his encounter with the fruit seller to have been a
good omen. He had not seen the tradesman's manoeuvre and he reassured
himself that his trousers were not as startling as all that. There now
walked towards Ivan Yakovlevich an office worker of just the same type as he
himself, with a briefcase under his arm. The office worker was walking
briskly, not bothering to look around him, but rather keeping a close watch
underfoot. Drawing level with Ivan Yakovlevich, the office worker stole a
glance at Ivan Yakovlevich's trousers and stopped in his tracks. Ivan
Yakovlevich stopped as well. The office worker looked at Ivan Yakovlevich,
as did Ivan Yakovlevich at the office worker.
-- Excuse me -- said the office worker -- you couldn't tell me how to
get to the... national... exchange?
-- To get there you'll have to go along this footpath ... along this
footbridge... no, I mean, you'll have to go this way and then that way --
said Ivan Yakovlevich.
The office worker said thank you and quickly walked away, and Ivan
Yakovlevich took a few steps forward but, seeing that now towards him came
not a male office worker but a female one, he lowered his head and ran
across to the other side of the street. Ivan Yakovlevich arrived at the
office with some delay and very bad tempered. Ivan Yakovlevich's colleagues
naturally focused their attention on the green trousers with legs of varying
hue but, evidently guessing that this was the cause of his ball temper, they
did not trouble him with questions. Ivan Yakovlevich underwent torture for
two weeks wearing his green trousers, until one of his colleagues, one
Apollon Maksimovich Shilov, suggested to Ivan Yakovlevich that he should buy
a pair of striped trousers from Apollon Maksimovich himself which were
ostensibly surplus to Apollon Maksimovich's requirements.
Aleksey Alekseyevich Alekseyev was a real knight. So, for example, on
one occasion, catching sight from a tram of a lady stumbling against a
kerbstone and dropping from her bag a glass lampshade for a table-lamp,
which promptly smashed, Aleksey Alekseyevich, desiring to help the lady,
decided to sacrifice himself and, leaping from the tram at full speed, fell
and split open the whole of his phizog on a stone. Another time, seeing a
lady who was climbing over a fence catch her skirt on a nail and get stuck
there, so that she could move neither backward nor forward, Aleksey
Alekseyevich began to get so agitated that, in his agitation, he broke two
front teeth with his tongue. In a word, Aleksey Alekseyevich was really the
most chivalrous knight, and not only in relation to ladies. With
unprecedented ease, Aleksey Alekseyevich could sacrifice his life for his
Faith, Tsar and Motherland, as he proved in the year '14, at the start of
the German war, by throwing himself, with the cry 'For the Motherland!', on
to the street from a second-floor window. By some miracle, Aleksey
Alekseyevich remained alive, getting off with only light injuries, and was
quickly, as such an uncommonly zealous patriot, dispatched to the front.
At the front, Aleksey Alekseyevich distinguished himself with his
unprecedentedly elevated feelings and every time he pronounced the words
'banner', 'fanfare', or even just 'epaulettes', down his face there would
trickle a tear of emotion.
In the year '16, Aleksey Alekseyevich was wounded in the loins and
withdrew from the front.
As a first-category invalid, Aleksey Alekseyevich had no longer to
serve and, profiting from the time on his hands, committed his patriotic
feelings to paper.
Once, chatting to Konstantin Lebedev, Aleksey Alekseyevich came out
with his favourite utterance -- I have suffered for the motherland and
wrecked my loins, but I exist by the strength of conviction in my posterior
-- And you're a fool! -- said Konstantin Lebedev. -- The highest
service to the motherland is rendered only by a Liberal.
For some reason, these words became deeply imprinted on the mind of
Aleksey Alekseyevich and so, in the year '17, he was already calling himself
a liberal whose loins had suffered for his native land.
Aleksey Alekseyevich greeted the Revolution with delight,
notwithstanding even the fact that he was deprived of his pension. For a
certain time Konstantin Lebedev supplied him with cane-sugar, chocolate,
preserved suet and millet groats. But when Konstantin Lebedev suddenly went
missing no one knew where, Aleksey Alekseyevich had to take to the streets
and ask for charity. At first, Aleksey Alekseyevich would extend his hand
and say: -- Give charity, for Christ's sake, to him whose loins have
suffered for the motherland. -- But this brought no success. Then Aleksey
Alekseyevich changed the word 'motherland' to the word 'revolution'. But
this too brought no success. Then Aleksey Alekseyevich composed a
revolutionary song, and, if he saw on the street a person capable, in
Aleksey Alekseyevich's opinion, of giving alms, he would take a step forward
and proudly, with dignity, threw back his head and start singing:
To the barricades
We will all zoom!
We will ourselves all maim and doom!
And, jauntily tapping his heels in the Polish manner, Aleksey
Alekseyevich would extend his hat and say -- Alms, please, for Christ's
sake. -- This did help and Aleksey Alekseyevich rarely remained without
Everything was going well, but then, in the year '22, Aleksey
Alekseyevich got to know a certain Ivan Ivanovich Puzyryov, who dealt in
Sunflower oil in the Haymarket. Puzyryov invited Aleksey Alekseyevich to a
cafe, treated him to real coffee and, himself chomping fancy cakes,
expounded to him some sort of complicated enterprise of which Aleksey
Alekseyevich understood only that he had to do something, in return for
which he would receive from Puzyryov the most costly items of nutrition.
Aleksey Alekseyevich agreed and Puzyryov, on the spot, as an incentive,
passed him under the table two caddies of tea and a packet of Rajah
After this, Aleksey Alekseyevich came to see Puzyryov every morning at
the market, and picking up from him some sort of papers with crooked
signatures and numerous seals, took a sleigh, if it were winter and if it
were summer a cart, and set off as instructed by Puzyryov, to do the rounds
of various establishments where, producing the papers, he would receive some
sort of boxes, which he would load on to his sleigh or cart, and in the
evening take them to Puzyryov at his flat. But once, when Aleksey
Alekseyevich had just rolled up in his sleigh at Puzyryov's flat, two men
came up to him, one of whom was in a military great-coat, and asked him: --
Is your name Alekseyev? -- Then Aleksey Alekseyevich was put into an
automobile and taken away to prison.
At the interrogation, Aleksey Alekseyevich understood not a thing and
just kept saying that he had suffered for his revolutionary motherland. But,
despite this, he was sentenced to ten years of exile in his motherland's
northern parts. Having got back in the year '28 to Leningrad, Aleksey
Alekseyevich began to ply his previous trade and, standing up on the corner
of Volodarskiy, tossed back his head with dignity, tapped his heel and sang
To the barricades
We will all zoom!
We will ourselves all maim and doom!
But he did not even manage to sing it through twice before he was taken
away in a covered vehicle to somewhere in the direction of the Admiralty.
His feet never touched the ground.
And there we have a short narrative of the life of the valiant knight
and patriot, Aleksey Alekseyevich Alekseyev.
Abram Demyanovich Pentopasov cried out loudly and pressed a
handkerchief to his eyes. But it was too late. Ash and soft dust had gummed
up Abram Demyanovich's eyes. From then on Abram Demyanovich's eyes began to
hurt, they were gradually covered over with repulsive scabs, and Abram
Demyanovich went blind.
As a blind invalid, Abram Demyanovich was given the push from his job
and accorded a wretched pittance of thirty-six roubles a month.
Quite clearly this sum was insufficient for Abram Demyanovich to live
on. A kilo of bread cost a rouble and ten kopecks, and a leek cost
forty-eight kopecks at the market.
And so the industrial invalid began more and more to concentrate his
attention on rubbish bins.
It was difficult for a blind man to find the edible scraps among all
the peelings and filth.
Even finding the rubbish itself in someone else's yard is not easy. you
can't see it with your eyes, and to ask -- Whereabouts here is your rubbish
bin? -- is somehow a bit awkward.
The only way left is to sniff it out.
Some rubbish bins reek so much you can smell them a mile away, but
others with lids are absolutely impossible to detect.
It's all right if you happen upon a kindly caretaker, but the other
sort would so put the wind up you that you'd lose your appetite.
Once Abram Demyanovich climbed into someone's rubbish bin and when he
was in there a rat bit him, and he climbed straight back out again. So that
day he didn't eat anything. But then one morning something jumped out of
Abram Demyanovich's right eye.
Abram Demyanovich rubbed the eye and suddenly saw daylight. And then
something jumped out of his left eye, too, and Abram Demyanovich saw the
From that day on it was all downhill for Abram Demyanovich.
Everywhere Abram Demyanovich was in great demand.
In the People's Committee for Heavy Industry office Abram Demyanovich
was a minor sensation.
And so Abram Demyanovich became a great man.
On Phenomena and Existences. No. 2
Once Antonina Alekseyevna struck her husband with her office stamp and
imprinted his forehead with stamp-pad ink.
The mortally offended Pyotr Leonidovich, Antonina Alekseyevna's
husband, locked himself in the bathroom and wouldn't let anyone in.
However, the residents of the communal flat, having a strong need to
get in to where Pyotr Leonidovich was sitting, decided to break down the
locked door by force.
Seeing that the game was up, Pyotr Leonidovich came out of the bathroom
and, going back into his own flat, lay down on the bed.
But Antonina Alekseyevna decided to persecute her husband to the limit.
She tore up little bits of paper and showered them on to Pyotr Leonidovich
who was lying on the bed.
The infuriated Pyotr Leonidovich leaped out into the corridor and set
about tearing the wallpaper.
At this point all the residents ran out and, seeing what the hapless
Pyotr Leonidovich was doing, they threw themselves on to him and ripped the
waistcoat that he was wearing.
Pyotr Leonidovich ran off to the porter's office.
During this time, Antonina Alekseyevna had stripped naked and had
hidden in the trunk.
Ten minutes later Pyotr Leonidovich returned, followed by the house
Not finding his wife in the room, Pyotr Leonidovich with the house
manager decided to take advantage of the empty premises in order to down
some vodka. Pyotr Leonidovich undertook to run off to the corner for the
When Pyotr Leonidovich had gone out, Antonina Alekseyevna climbed out
of the trunk and appeared before the house manager in a state of nakedness.
The shaken house manager leaped from his chair and rushed up to the
window, but, seeing the muscular build of the young twenty-six-year-old
woman, he suddenly gave way to wild rapture.
At this point Pyotr Leonidovich returned witty a litre of vodka.
Catching sight of what was afoot in his room, Pyotr Leonidovich knitted
But his spouse Antonina Alekseyevna showed him her office stamp and
Pyotr Leonidovich calmed down.
Antonina Alekseyevna expressed a desire to participate in the drinking
session, but strictly on condition that she maintain her naked state and, to
boot, that she sit on the table on which it was proposed to set out the
snacks to accompany the vodka. The men sat down on chairs, Antonina
Alekseyevna sat on the table and the drinking commenced.
It cannot be called hygienic if a naked young woman is sitting on the
very table at which people are eating. Moreover Antonina Alekseyevna was a
woman of a rather plump build and not all that particular about her bodily
cleanliness, so it was a pretty devilish state of affairs.
Soon, however, they had all drunk themselves into a stupor and fallen
asleep: the men on the floor and Antonina Alekseyevna on the table.
And silence was established in the communal flat.
A certain engineer has made up his mind to build a huge brick wall
across Petersburg. He considers how to accomplish this, doesn't sleep for
nights cogitating it. Gradually a group of engineering planners is formed
and a plan for the construction of the wall is elaborated. It was decided to
build the wall at night, indeed, to build the whole thing in one night, so
that it would appear as a surprise to everyone. Workers are summoned. The
organisation is under way. The city authorities are sidelined and finally
the night arrives when this wall is to be built. The building of the wall is
known only to four men. The workers and engineers receive exact instructions
as to whom to place where and what to do. Thanks to exact calculation, they
succeed in putting up the wall in a single night. On the following day there
is consternation in Petersburg. And the inventor of the wall is himself
dejected. To what use this wall was to be put, he himself did not know.
An Unexpected Drinking Bout
There once was a man whose name was Kuznetsov. He left his house to go
to a shop to buy some carpenter's glue so as to stick a stool.
When Kuznetsov was walking past an unfinished house, a brick fell off
the top and hit Kuznetsov on the head.
Kuznetsov fell, but straight away jumped to his feet and felt over his
head. On Kuznetsov's head a huge lump had come up.
Kuznetsov gave the lump a rub and said: -- I, citizen Kuznetsov, left
the house to go to the shop to... to... to... Oh, what on earth's happened?
I've forgotten why I was going to the shop!
At this point a second brick fell off the roof and again Kuznetsov was
struck on the head.
-- Akh! -- cried Kuznetsov, clutching at his head and feeling a second
lump on his head.
-- A likely story! -- said Kuznetsov. -- I, citizen Kuznetsov, left the
house to go to... to go to... to go to... where was I going!
Then a third brick fell from the top on to Kuznetsov's head. And on
Kuznetsov's head a third lump came up. -- Oh heck! -- yelled out Kuznetsov,
snatching at his head. -- I, citizen Kuznetsov, left the... left the... Left
the cellar? No. Left the boozer? Nol Where did I leave?
A fourth brick fell from the roof, hit Kuznetsov on the back of the
head and a fourth lump came up on Kuznetsov.
-- Well, now then! -- said Kuznetsov, scratching the back of his head.
-- I... I... I... Who am I ? I seem to have forgotten what my name is ... A
likely story! Whatever's my name? Vasily Petukhov? No. Nikolay Sapogov? No.
Panteley Rysakov? No. Well, who the hell am I?
But then a fifth brick fell off the roof and so struck Kuznetsov on the
back of the head that Kuznetsov forgot everything once and for all and,
crying 'Oh, oh, oh!', ran off down the street.
If you wouldn't mind! If anyone should meet a man in the street with
five lumps on his head, please remind him that his name is Kuznetsov and
that he has to buy some carpenter's glue and repair a broken stool.
Natasha had two sweets. Then she ate one of the sweets and one sweet
remained. Natasha placed the sweet on the table in front of her and started
Suddenly she has a look and on the table in front of her there lie two
Natasha ate one sweet and again started crying.
Natasha cries and keeps one eye on the table to see whether a second
sweet will appear. But a second sweet did not appear.
Natasha stopped crying and started to sing. she sang and sang away, and
Natasha's Dad arrived, took Natasha and carried her to the house
-- Here -- says Natasha's Dad -- will you witness the death?
The house manager blew on his stamp and applied it to Natasha's
-- Thank you -- said Natasha's Dad and carried Natasha off to the
But at the cemetery was the watchman Matvei; he always sat by the gate
and didn't let anyone into the cemetery, so that the dead had to be buried
right on the street.
Dad buried Natasha on the street, removed his cap, placed it on the
spot where he had interred Natasha and went off home.
He arrived home and Natasha was already sitting there. How come? It's
very simple: she climbed out from under the earth and ran back home.
What a thing! Dad was so taken aback that he collapsed and died.
Natasha called the house manager, saying to him: -- Will you witness a
The house manager blew on his stamp and applied it to a sheet of paper
and then on the same sheet of paper he wrote: 'This certifies that so and so
has actually died.'
Natasha took the piece of paper and carried it off to the cemetery for
burial. But the watchman Matvei tells Natasha: -- I'm not letting you in on
Natasha says: -- I just want to bury this piece of palmer.
And the watchman says: -- Don't even ask. Natasha interred the piece of
paper on the street, placed her socks on the spot where she had interred the
piece of paper and went off home.
She gets home and Dad is already sitting there at home and is already
playing against himself on a miniature billiard table with little metal
Natasha was surprised but said nothing and went off to her room to grow
She grew and grew and within four years she had become a grown-up young
lady. But Natasha's Dad had become aged and bent. But they will both
remember how they had taken each other for dead and so they will fall on the
divan and just laugh. Another time they laugh for about twenty minutes.
And their neighbours, as soon as they hear this laughter, immediately
put on their coats and go off to the cinema. And one day they went off like
that and never came back again. Seemingly, they were run over by a car.
<There Once Was a Man...>
Once a certain professor ate something which didn't agree with him and
he began to vomit.
His wife came up to him, saying: -- What is it?
But the professor replied: -- It's nothing. -- His wife retreated
The professor reclined on the divan, had a little lie down, felt rested
and went off to work. At work there was a surprise for him: his salary had
been docked; instead of 650 roubles, he only had 500. The professor ran
hither and thither -- but to no avail. The professor went to the Director,
and the Director threw hills out. The professor went to the accountant, and
the accountant said: -- Apply to the Director. -- The professor got on a
train and went off to Moscow.
On the way he suddenly went down with flu. He arrived in Moscow and
couldn't get out on to the platform.
They put the professor on a stretcher and carried him off to hospital.
The professor lay in hospital no more than four days and then died.
The professor's body was cremated, the ashes were placed in an urn and
sent off to his wife.
So the professor's wife was sitting drinking coffee. Suddenly a ring.
What's that? -- A parcel for you.
The professor's wife was really pleased; smiling all over her face, she
thrust a tip into the postman's hand and was soon unwrapping the parcel. She
looked in the parcel and saw an urn of ashes, with a message: 'Herewith all
that remains of your spouse.'
The professor's wife didn't understand a thing; she shook the urn, held
it up to the light, read the message six times -- finally she worked out
what was afoot and was terribly upset.
The professor's wife was very upset, cried for three hours and then
went off to inter the urn of ashes. She wrapped the urn in a newspaper and
took it to the First Five-Year Plan Garden, formerly the Tavricheskiy.
The professor's wife chose the most out-of-the-way path and was just
intending to bury the urn, when suddenly a watchman came along.
-- Hey! -- shouted the watchman. -- What are you doing here? -- The
professor's wife was frightened and said: -- I just wanted to catch some
frogs in this jar.
-- Well -- said the watchman -- that's all right, only watch it, and
keep off the grass.
When the watchman had gone, the professor's wife buried the urn, trod
the earth down around it and went off for a stroll round the gardens.
In the gardens, she was accosted by some sailor -- Come on, let's go
for a little sleep -- he said.
She replied: -- Why should one sleep in the daytime? -- But he stuck to
his guns: sleep and more sleep.
And the professor's wife really did feel like sleeping.
She walked along the streets and she felt sleepy. People were running
all around her in blue, or in green -- and she just felt sleepy.
So she walked and slept. And she dreamed that Lev Tolstoy was coming
towards her, holding a chamber-pot in his hands. She asked him: -- What's
that, then? -- and he pointed to the chamber-pot, saying: -- Here, I've
really done something and now I'm taking it to show the whole world. Let
everyone see it -- he said.
The professor's wife also had a look and saw that it seemed no longer
to be Tolstoy, but a shed, and in the shed was a hen.
The professor's wife tried to catch the hen, but the hen hid under a
divan, from which it looked out, now in the form of a rabbit.
The professor's wife crawled under the divan after the rabbit and woke
She woke and looked around: she really was lying under a divan.
The professor's wife crawled out from under the divan -- and saw her
own room. And there stood the table with her undrunk coffee. On the table
lay the message -- Herewith all that remains of your spouse.
The professor's wife shed a few more tears and sat down to drink up her
Suddenly a ring. What's that? Some people walk in and say -- Let's go.
-- Where? -- asked the professor's wife.
-- To the lunatic asylum -- they reply.
The professor's wife began to shout and to dig in her heels, but the
people grabbed her and took her off to the lunatic asylum.
And there, on a bunk in a lunatic asylum, sits a completely normal
professor's wife, holding a fishing rod and fishing on the floor for some
invisible fish or other.
This professor's wife is merely a pitiful example of how many
unfortunates there are in life who do not occupy in life the position that
they ought to occupy.
Masha found a mushroom, picked it and took it to the market. At the
market, Masha was hit about the head, and there were further promises that
she could be hit about the legs as well. Masha took fright and ran off.
Masha ran to the co-operative store and wanted to hide there behind the
cash desk. But the manager caught sight of Mashes and said: -- What's that
you've got in your hands?
And Masha said: -- A mushroom. The manager said: -- Why, you're a fine
one, now! How would you like me to fix you up with a job?
-- Oh, you won't fix me up -- said Masha. -- I'll fix you up here and
now! -- said the manager. And he fixed Masha up with a job, turning the
handle on the cash till.
Masha turned and turned away on the handle on the cash till and
suddenly died. The police arrived, drew up a report, and ordered the manager
to pay a fine of fifteen roubles.
-- What's the fine for? -- asked the manager.
-- For murder -- replied the police.
The manager took fright, hastily paid the fine and said: -- All right,
only take this dead cashier out of here straight away.
At this point the sales assistant from the fruit section said: -- No,
wait a minute, you've got it wrong, she wasn't the cashier. She only turned
the handle on the cash till. That's the cashier sitting there.
-- It's all the same to us -- said the police -- we've been told to
take a cashier out of here, so we'll take one out.
The police started towards the cashier. The cashier thereupon lay down
on the floor behind the cash desk and said: -- I won't go.
-- Why won't you go, you silly woman? -- said the police.
-- You're going to bury me alive -- said the cashier.
The police started to try and lift the cashier up from the floor, but
try as they might, they couldn't lift her, as she was extremely stout.
-- Grab her by the legs -- said the sales assistant from the fruit
-- No -- said the manager -- this cashier acts as my wife. I must
therefore ask you not to expose her from the rear end.
-- Do you hear? -- said the cashier -- don't you dare expose me from
the rear end.
The police look hold of the cashier under the arms and dragged and
heaved her out of the co-operative store.
The manager ordered the sales assistants to tidy up the store and get
business under way.
--- But what are we going to do with this dead woman? -- said the sales
assistant from the fruit section, pointing at Masha.
-- Good gracious me -- said the manager -- we've made a mess of the
whole thing! Well, what in fact are we going to do with the dead woman?
-- And who's going to sit at the cash till? -- asked the sales
The manager clutched his head with both hands. He sent apples
scattering along the counter with his knee and said: -- What's happened is
-- Monstrous! -- echoed the sales assistants in chorus.
Suddenly the manager scratched his moustache and said: -- Ha, ha, I'm
not so easily nonplussed. We'll seat the dead woman behind the till, and
perhaps the public won't realise who's sitting there.
They seated the dead woman at the cash desk, stuck a cigarette between
her teeth to give her a greater resemblance to the living, and for
additional verisimilitude gave her the mushroom to hold in her hands.
The dead woman sat there looking quite alive, except that her facial
colouring was very green, and one eye was open, while the other was
-- Never mind -- said the manager -- she'll do.
And the public was already knocking at the doors, highly agitated that
the shop had not been opened. In particular, one matriarchal figure in a
silk coat was shouting her head off: she was shaking her purse and aiming a
back heel kick at the door-handle. And behind the matriarchal figure some
old woman with a pillowcase on her head was shouting and swearing, calling
the manager of the co-operative store a stingy old swine.
The manager opened the doors and admitted the public. The public
charged straight to the meat section, and then to where the sugar and pepper
were sold. But the old woman made straight for the fish section, and on the
way glanced at the cashier and stopped.
-- Good Lord -- she said -- Holy goats!
And the matriarchal figure in the silk coat had already been round
every section, and was rushing to the cash desk. But no sooner had she
glimpsed the cashier then she stopped dead, stood in silence and just
looked. And the sales assistants also stayed silent anal looked at the
manager. And the manager peered out from behind the counter, waiting to see
what would happen next.
The matriarchal figure in the silk coat turned to the sales assistants
and said: -- Who's that you've got sitting behind the cash till?
And the sales assistants stayed silent, as they didn't know what to
The manager also stayed silent.
At this point people came running from all sides. Already there was a
crowd on the street. Caretakers from nearby houses appeared on the scene.
Whistles were heard blowing. In a word, an absolute scandal.
The crowd was prepared to stand there outside the store until evening
at least. But someone said that old women were plummeting out of a window on
Ozerny Pereulok. Then the crowd outside the store thinned out, because a lot
of people went over to Ozerny Pereulok.
The Fate of a Professor's Wife
I used to be a very wise old man.
Now I am not quite right; you may consider me even not to exist at all.
But the time was when any one of you would have come to me and, whatever
burden may have oppressed a person, whatever sins may have tormented his
thoughts, I would have embraced him and said: -- My son, take comfort, for
no burden is oppressing you and I see no bodily sins in you -- and he would
scamper away from me in happiness and joy.
I was great and strong. People who met me on the street would shy to
one side and I would pass through a crowd like a flat iron.
My feet would often be kissed, but I didn't protest: I knew I deserved
it. why deprive people of the pleasure of honouring me? I myself, being
extraordinarily lithe of body, even tried to kiss myself on my own foot. I
sat on a bench, got hold of my right foot and pulled it up to my face. I
managed to kiss the big toe. I was happy. I understood the happiness of
Everyone worshipped me! And not only people, but even beasts, while
even various insects crawled before me and wagged their tails. And cats!
They simply adored me and, somehow or other gripping each other's paws,
would run in front of me whenever I was on the staircase.
At that time I was indeed very wise and understood everything. There
was not a thing that would nonplus me. Just a minute's exertion of my
colossal mind and the most complicated question would be resolved in the
simplest possible manner. I was even taken to the Brain Institute and shown
off to the learned professors. They measured my mind by electricity and
simply boggled. -- We have never seen anything like it -- they said.
I was married but rarely saw my wife. She was afraid of me: the
enormity of my mind overwhelmed her. She did not so much live, as tremble;
and if I as much as looked at her, she would begin to hiccup. We lived
together for a long time, but then I think she disappeared somewhere. I
don't remember exactly.
Memory -- that's a strange thing altogether. How hard remembering is,
and how easy forgetting That's how it often is: you memorise one thing, and
then remember something entirely different. Or: you memorise something with
some difficulty, but very thoroughly, and then you can't remember anything.
That also happens. I would advise everyone to work a bit on their memory.
I always believed in fair play and never beat anyone for no reason,
because, when you are beating someone, you always go a bit daft and you
might overdo it. Children, for example, should never be beaten with a knife
or with anything made of iron, but women -- the opposite: they shouldn't be
kicked. Animals -- they, it is said, have more endurance. But I have carried
out experiments in this line and I know that this is not always the case.
Thanks to my litheness, I was able to do things which no one else could
do. For example, I managed to retrieve by hand from an extremely sinuous
sewage pipe my brother's earring, which had accidently fallen there. I
could, for example, hide in a comparatively small basket and put the lid on
Yes, certainly, I was phenomenal!
My brother was my complete opposite: in the first place, he was taller
and, secondly, more stupid.
He and I were never very friendly. Although, however, we were friendly,
even very. I've got something wrong here: to be exact, he and I were not
friendly and were always on bad terms. And this is how we got crossed. I was
standing beside a shop: they were issuing sugar there, and I was standing in
the queue, trying not to listen to what was being said around me. I had
slight toothache and was not in the greatest of moods. It was very cold
outside, because everyone was standing in quilted fur coats and they were
still freezing. I was also standing in a quilted fur, but I was not freezing
myself, though my hands were freezing because I had to keep taking them out
of my pockets to adjust the suitcase I was holding between my knees, so that
it didn't go missing. Suddenly someone struck me on the back. I flew into a
state of indescribable indignation and, quick as lightning, began to
consider how to punish the offender. During this time, I was struck a second
time on the back. I pricked up my ears, but decided against turning my head
and pretended that I hadn't noticed. I just, to be on the safe side, took
the suitcase in my hand. Seven minutes passed and I was struck on the back a
third time. At this I turned round and saw in front of me a tall middle-aged
man in a rather shabby, but still quite good, military fur coat.
-- What do you want from me? -- I asked him in strict and even slightly
-- And you, why don't you turn when you're called? -- he said.
I had begun to think over the content of his words when he again opened
his mouth and said: -- What's wrong with you? Don't you recognise me or
something? I'm your brother.
I again began to think over his words when he again opened his mouth
and said: -- Just listen, brother mine. I'm four roubles short for the sugar
and it's a nuisance to have to leave the queue. Lend me five and I'll settle
up with you later. -- I started to ponder why my brother should be four
roubles short, but he grabbed hold of my sleeve and said: -- Well, so then,
are you going to lend your own brother some money? -- and with these words
he undid my quilted fur for me himself, got into my inside pocket and
reached my purse.
-- Here we are -- he said. -- I'm taking a loan of a certain sum, and
your purse, look, here it is, I'm putting back in your coat. -- And he
shoved my purse into the outer pocket of my fur.
I was of course surprised at meeting my brother so unexpectedly. For a
while I was silent, and then I asked him: -- But where have you been until
-- There -- replied my brother, waving in some direction or other.
I started thinking over where this 'there' might be, but my brother
nudged me in the side and said: -- Look, they've started letting us in to
We went together as far as the shop doors, but inside the shop I proved
to be on my own, without my brother. Just for a moment, I jumped out of the
queue and looked through the door on to the street. But there was no sign of
When I again wanted to take my place in the queue, they wouldn't let me
in and even pushed me gradually out on to the street. Holding back my anger
at such bad manners, I went off home. At home I discovered that my brother
had taken all the money from my purse. At this stage I got absolutely
furious with my brother, and since then he and I have never made it up.
I lived alone and granted admittance only to those who came to me for
advice. But there were many of these and it turned out that I knew peace
neither by day nor by night. Sometimes I would get so tired that I would lie
down on the floor and rest. I would lie on the floor until I got cold; then
I would jump up and start running round the room, to warm up. Then I would
again sit down on the bench and give advice to all in need of it.
They would come in to me one after the other, sometimes not even
opening the doors. I used to enjoy looking at their excruciating faces. I
would talk to them, hardly able to stop myself laughing.
Once I couldn't contain myself and burst out laughing. They rushed in
horror to escape -- some through the door, some through the window, and some
straight through the walls.
Left on my own, I drew myself up to my full majestic height, opened my
mouth and said: -- Prin tim pram.
But at this point something in me cracked and, since then, you might
consider that I am no more.
YERMOLAYEV I have been at Blinov's and he gave me a demonstration of
his strength. I've never seen anything like it. The strength of a wild
animal! It was awful to behold. Blinov lifted up a writing table, swung it
about and tossed it all of four metres away from him.
DOCTOR It would be interesting to research this phenomenon. Such facts
are known to science, but the reasons for it are not understood. Where such
muscular strength comes from, scientists are not yet able to say. Introduce
me to Blinov. I'll give him a research pill.
YERMOLAYEV What sort of a pill is it that you are intending to give
DOCTOR Pill? I don't intend to give him a pill.
YERMOLAYEV But you only just said yourself that you were intending to
give him a pill.
DOCTOR No, no. you are mistaken. I didn't mention a pill.
YERMOLAYEV Well, excuse me, but I heard you mention a pill.
YERMOLAYEV What do you mean -- no?
DOCTOR I didn't say that.
YERMOLAYEV Who didn't say it?
DOCTOR You didn't say it.
YERMOLAYEV What didn't I say?
DOCTOR You, it seems to me, didn't finish saying something.
YERMOLAYEV I don't understand. What didn't I finish saying?
DOCTOR Your speech pattern is very typical. You swallow your words, you
don't complete the utterance of your initial thought, you hurry and then you
YERMOLAYEV When did I stutter? I speak quite fluently.
DOCTOR Ah, but that's where you're wrong. Do you see? You're even
starting to come out in red blotches from the tension. Your hands haven't
gone cold yet?
YERMOLAYEV No, but so what?
DOCTOR Yes, that was my supposition. I think you're already having
trouble breathing. You'd better sit down, before you fall down. That's
right. Now have a rest.
YERMOLAYEV But what for?
DOCTOR Shh! Don't strain your vocal chords. Now I'm going to alleviate
YERMOLAYEV Doctor! You frighten me.
DOCTOR My dear friend! I want to help you. Here, take this. Swallow it!
YERMOLAYEV Oh. Ooh! What a vile, disgustingly sweet taste! What is it
you've given me?
DOCTOR Nothing, it's all right. Calm down. It's a sure remedy.
YERMOLAYEV I'm hot and everything seems to be turning green.
DOCTOR Yes, that's right, my dear friend. In a minute, you'll die.
YERMOLAYEV What are you saying? Doctor! Oh! I can't! Doctor! What have
you given me? Oh, Doctor!
DOCTOR You have swallowed the research pill.
YERMOLAYEV Save me. Oh. Save me. Oh. Let me breathe. Oh. Save... oh.
DOCTOR He's gone quiet. And he's not breathing. That means he's dead
already. He has died, not finding on earth the answers to his questions.
Yes, we physicians must comprehensively research the phenomenon of death.
1. I am writing to you in reply to your letter, which you are intending
to write to me in reply to my letter which I wrote to you.
2. A certain violinist bought himself a magnet and was taking it home.
On the way some hooligans attacked the violinist and knocked his cap off.
The wind caught his cap and carried it along the street.
3. The violinist put his magnet down and ran off after his cap. The cap
landed in a puddle of nitric acid, where it decomposed.
4. And the hooligans had, by that time, grabbed the magnet and made
5. The violinist returned home without his coat and without his cap,
because the cap had decomposed in the nitric acid and the violinist,
distressed by the loss of his cap, had forgotten his coat on the tram.
6. The conductor of the tram in question took the coat to a second-hand
shop and there he exchanged it for some sour cream, groats and tomatoes.
7. The conductor's father-in-law stuffed himself on the tomatoes and
died. The conductor's father-in-law's body was placed in the morgue, but
then things got mixed up and, instead of the conductor's father-in-law, they
buried some old woman.
8. On the old woman's grave they placed a white post with the
inscription: 'Anton Sergeyevich Kondrat'ev'.
9. Eleven years later, this post fell down, eaten through by worms. And
the cemetery watchman sawed the post into four pieces and burned it in his
stove. And the cemetery watchman's wife cooked cauliflower soup over this
10. But, when the soup was just ready, the clock fell off the wall
right into the saucepan full of soup. They got the clock out of the soup,
but these had been bedbugs in the clock and now they were in the soup. They
gave the soup to Timofey the beggar.
11. Timofey the beggar ate the soup, bugs and all, and told Nikolay the
beggar of the cemetery watchman's generosity.
12. The next day Nikolay the beggar went to the cemetery watchman and
started asking him for alms. But the cemetery watchman didn't give Nikolay
the beggar anything and chased him away.
13. Nikolay the beggar took this very badly and burned down the house
of the cemetery watchman.
14. The fire went from the house to the church and the church burned
15. A lengthy investigation took place, but the cause of the fire could
not be established.
16. On the spot where the church had stood they built a club and on the
club's opening day a concert was arranged at which performed the violinist
who, fourteen years before, had lost his coat.
17. And amid the audience there sat the son of one of those hooligans
who, fourteen years before, had knocked the cap off this violinist.
18. After the concert they travelled home in the same tram. But, in the
tram which was following theirs, the tram-driver was that very conductor who
had once sold the violinist's coat at the second-hand shop.
19. And so there they are, travelling across the city in the late
evening: in front are the violinist and the hooligan's son, and behind them
the tram-driver and former conductor.
20. They travel on and are not aware of what the connection is between
them and this they will never learn until their dying day.
* This letter was addressed to Yakov Semyonovich Druskin.
Sen'ka bashed Fed'ka across the chops and hid under the chest of
Fed'ka got Sen'ka out from under the chest of drawers with a poker and
tore off his right ear.
Sen'ka slipped through Fed'ka's hands and, holding his torn-off ear,
ran off to the neighbours.
But Fed'ka caught up with Sen'ka and coshed him over the head with the
Sen'ka collapsed and, seemingly, died.
Then Fed'ka packed his things in a suitcase and went away to
In Vladivostok Fed'ka became a tailor; strictly speaking, he was not
exactly a tailor, because he made only ladies' underwear, principally
drawers and brassieres. The ladies had no inhibitions with Fed'ka; right in
front of him they would hitch up their skirts and Fed'ka would take their
Fed'ka, as one might say, didn't half see some sights.
Fed'ka was a nasty character.
Fed'ka was the murderer of Sen'ka.
Fed'ka was a lecherous devil.
Fed'ka was a glutton, because every evening he ate a dozen cutlets.
Fed'ka grow such a belly on him, that he made himself a corset and took to
Fed'ka was an unscrupulous man: he took money from children he met in
the street, he tripped up old men and he terrorised old women by raising his
hand to them and, when a frightened old woman shied to one side, Fed'ka
would pretend that he had only raised his hand to scratch his head.
It ended when Nikolay went up to Fed'ka, bashed him across the chops
and hid under a cupboard.
Fed'ka got Nikolay out with a poker from under the cupboard and ripped
open his mouth.
Nikolay ran off with his ripped mouth to the neighbours, but Fed'ka
caught up with him and clubbed him with a beer mug. Nikolay collapsed and
Fed'ka gathered his things and went away from Vladivostok.
Written in two devices, by 21 November 1937
Andrey Andreyevich thought up a story like this one.
In an old castle there lived a prince, who was a terrible boozer. But
the wife of this prince, on the contrary, didn't even drink tea, she only
drank water and milk. While her husband drank vodka and wine, but didn't
drink milk. Though, in fact, his wife, to tell the truth, also drank vodka
but kept it quiet. But her husband was quite shameless and didn't keep it
-- I don't drink milk, I drink vodka! -- he always said. While his wife
on the quiet, from under her apron, pulled out a jar and -- glug! -- she was
Her husband, the prince, says: -- You could have given me some.
But his wife, the princess, says: -- No, there's little enough for me.
-- As for you, -- says the prince -- call yourself a lady! -- And with
these words, wallop, and his wife's on the floor! The wife, her whole kisser
smashed in, lies on the floor crying. And the prince wrapped himself in his
cloak and went to his quarters in the tower, where his cages stood. He bred
fowls there, you see. And so the prince arrived in the tower and there the
chickens were squawking, wanting food. one chicken even began to neigh.
-- As for you -- said the prince -- you chauntecleer! Shut up, before
you get your teeth bashed in! -- The chicken doesn't understand a word and
just carries on neighing. So, in the end then, we've got a chicken making a
racket in the tower, and tile prince, then, offing and blinding and his
wife, then, downstairs lying on the floor -- in a word, a complete Sodom.
That's the sort of story Andrey Andreyevich would think up. Even just
from this story you can tell that Andrey Andreyevich is a major talent.
Andrey Andreyevich is a very clever man. Very clever and very fine!
The Memoirs of a Wise Old Man
They call me the Capuchin. For that I'll tear the ears off whomsoever
it may be necessary, but meanwhile I get no peace from the fame of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Why did he have to know everything? How to swaddle
infants and how to give young girls in marriage I would also like to know
everything. In fact I do know everything, except that I am not so sure of my
theories. About infants, I certainly know that they should not be swaddled
at all -- they should be obliterated. For this I would establish a central
pit in the city and would throw the infants into it. And so that the stench
of decomposition should not come from the pit, it could be flooded every
week with quicklime. Into the same pit I would also stick all Alsatian dogs.
Now, about giving young girls in marriage. That, in my view, is even
simpler: I would establish a public hall where, say, once a month all the
youth would assemble. All of them between seventeen and thirty-five would
have to strip naked and parade up and down the hall. If anyone fancied
someone, then that pail would go off into a corner and there examine each
other in detail. I forgot to say that they would all have to have a card
hanging from the neck with their name, surname and address. Then, a letter
could be sent to whomever was to someone's taste, to set up a more intimate
acquaintance. Should any old man or woman intervene in these matters, I
would propose killing them with an axe and dragging them off to the same
place as the infants -- to the central pit.
I would have written more of the knowledge within me, but unfortunately
I have to go to the shop for tobacco. When walking on the street, I always
take with me a thick knotty stick. I take it with me in order to batter any
infants who may get under my feet. That must be why they called me the
Capuchin. But just you wait, you swine, I'll skin your ears yet!
Serov, an artist, went to the Obvodny Canal. Why did he go there? To
buy some india rubber. What did he want india rubber for? To make himself a
rubber band. And what did he want a rubber band for? In order to stretch it.
That's what for. And what else? This is what else: the artist Serov had
broken his clock. The clock had been going well, but he picked it up and
broke it. What else? Nothing else. Nothing, this is it, in a nutshell! Keep
your filthy snout out when it's not needed! And may the lord have mercy on
Once there lived an old woman. She lived and lived, until she got burnt
up in her stove. Served her right, too! The artist Serov, at least, was of
Huh! I would write some more, but the ink-pot has suddenly gone and
I had raised dust. Children were running after me, tearing their
clothing. Old men and old women fell from roofs. I whistled, I roared, my
teeth chattered and I clattered like an iron bar. Lacerated children raced
after me and, falling behind, broke their thin legs in their awful haste.
Old men and old women were skipping around me. I rushed on! Filthy, rachitic
children, looking like toadstools, got tangled under my feet. Running was
hard going. I kept remembering things and once I even almost fell into the
soft mush of old men and women floundering on the ground. I jumped, snapped
a few heads off toadstools and trod on the belly of a thin old woman, who at
this emitted a loud crunch and softly muttered: -- They've worn me out. --
Not looking back, I ran on further. Now under my feet was a clean and smooth
pavement. Occasional streetlamps lit my way. I ran up to the bath-house. The
welcoming bath-house flickered in front of me and the cosy but stifling
bathhouse steam was already in my nostrils, ears and mouth. Without
undressing, I ran straight through the changing-room, then past the taps,
the tubs and the planks, to the shelf. A hot white cloud surrounds me, I
hear a weak but insistent sound. I seem to be lying down.
And at this point, a mighty relaxation stopped my heart.
A shortish gent with a pebble in his eye went up to the door of a
tobacconist's shop and stopped. His black polished shoes gleamed on the
stone step leading up to the tobacconist's. The toe-caps of his shoes were
directed at the inside of the shop. Two more steps and the gentleman would
have disappeared through the door. But for some reason he dilly-dallied, as
though purposely to position his head under the brick which was falling from
the roof. The gentleman had even taken off his hat, baring his bald skull,
and thus the brick struck the gentleman right on his bare head, broke the
cranium and embedded itself in his brain. The gentleman didn't fall. No, he
merely staggered a bit from the terrible blow, pulled a handkerchief from
his pocket, used it to wipe his face, which was all gooey from blood and
brains, and, turning towards the crowd, which had instantly gathered around
the gentleman, he said: -- Don't worry, ladies and gents: I've already had
the vaccination. You can see -- I've got a protruding pebble in my right
eye. That was also once quite an incident. I've already got used to that.
Now everything's just fine and dandy!
And with these words the gentleman replaced his hat and went off
somewhere into the margins, leaving the troubled crowd in complete
There was a house, full of old women. The old women lounged around the
house all day and swatted flies with paper bags. There were in all
thirty-six old women in this house. The most vigourous old woman, by surname
Yufleva, ordered the other old women about. She would nib any disobedient
old woman on the back of the shoulders or trip her up, and she would fall
and smash her face. One old woman called Zvyakina, punished by Yufleva, fell
so disastrously that she broke both her jaws. The doctor had to be sent for.
He arrived, put on his white coat and, having examined Zvyakina, said that
she was too old for there being any possibility of counting on her jaws
mending. Then the doctor asked to be given a hammer, a chisel, pincers and
rope. The old women drifted round the house for ages and, not knowing what
pincers and a chisel look like, they brought the doctor everything that
seemed to them anything like tools. The doctor cursed for a long time but
finally, having received all the objects he had demanded, asked everyone to
withdraw. The old women, burning with curiosity, withdrew with great
displeasure. When the old women, amid swearing and grumbling, had hocked out
of the room, the doctor locked the door behind them and went up to Zvyakina.
-- Now then -- said the doctor and, having grabbed Zvyakina, tied her
tightly with the rope. Then the doctor, paying no attention to the loud
cries and wailing of Zvyakina, placed the chisel to her jaw-bone and struck
the chisel hard with the hammer. Zvyakina began howling in a hoarse bass.
Having shattered Zvyakina's jaw with the chisel, the doctor grabbed the
pincers and, having engaged Zvyakina's jaws, tore them out. Zvyakina howled,
shouted and wheezed, covered in blood. And the doctor dropped the pincers
and Zvyakina's torn jaw-bones, took off his white coat, wiped his hands off
it and, going over to the door, opened it. The old women tumbled into the
room with a scream and stared goggle-eyed, some at Zvyakina, some at the
blood-stained bits lying about on the floor. The doctor pushed his way
between the old women and went out. The old women rushed over to Zvyakina.
Zvyakina faded in volume and, obviously, was in the process of dying.
Yufleva stood right there, looking at Zvyakina and nibbling at sunflower
seeds. The old woman Byashechina said: -- So, Yufleva, even you and I will
snuff it some day.
Yufleva kicked at Byashechina, but the latter jumped aside in time.
-- Come on girls! -- said Byashechina. -- Why hang around here? Let's
leave Yufleva and Zvyakina to romp around, and we'll go and swat flies.
And the old women moved off out of the room.
Yufleva, continuing to bite into her sunflower seeds, stood in the
middle of the room and looked at Zvyakina. Zvyakina had faded away and lay
there motionless. Perhaps she had died.
However, with this the author is finishing his narrative, since he
cannot find his ink-pot.
Pushkov said: -- Woman is the workbench of love.
And he immediately received a clout across the gob.
-- What's that for? -- asked Pushkov.
But, not getting any answer to his question, he continued: -- This is
what I think: a woman should be tackled from below. Women really like this
and only pretend that they don't like it.
At this point Pushkov was again struck across the gob.
-- But what on earth is this, comrades! If that's the way it is, I
won't carry on speaking -- said Pushkov.
But, after waiting about a quarter of a minute, he continued: -- A
woman is so built that she is all soft and damp.
At this point Pushkov was again struck across the gob. Pushkov tried to
pretend that he hadn't noticed this and went on: -- If you just sniff a
But at this point Pushkov was so slammed across the gob that he caught
hold of his cheek and said: -- Comrades, under these conditions it is
absolutely impossible to deliver a lecture. If this happens again, I shall
Pushkov waited for a quarter of a minute and then continued: -- Now,
where were we? Ah, yes. That was it. A woman loves to look at herself. She
sits down in front of the mirror completely naked...
At this word, Pushkov again received a clout across the gob.
-- Naked -- repeated Pushkov.
Smack! -- he was weighed into right across the gob.
-- Naked! -- yelled Pushkov.
Smack! -- he received a clout across the gob.
-- Naked! A naked woman! A nude tart! -- Pushkov kept yelling. Smack!
Smack! Smack! -- Pushkov took it across the gob.
-- A nude tart with a ladle in her hands! -- yelled Pushkov.
Smack! Smack! -- the blows rained down on Pushkov.
-- A tart's bum-hole! -- yelled Pushkov, dodging the blows. -- A nude
But at this point Pushkov was struck with such force that he lost
consciousness and crumpled to the floor as though pole-axed.
They said to Myshin: -- Hey, Myshin, get up!
Myshin said: -- I won't get up -- and continued lying on the floor.
Then Kalugin came up to Myshin and said: -- If you don't get up,
Myshin, I will make you get up.
-- No -- said Myshin, continuing to lie on the floor.
Selizneva went up to Myshin and said: -- Myshin, you are for ever
sprawling about the floor in the corridor and you interfere with us walking
backwards and forwards.
-- I have been interfering and I shall keep on interfering -- said
-- Well, you know -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin interrupted him and
-- What's the point of carrying on long conversations about it! Call
They called for the militia and called out a militiaman.
The militiaman arrived after half an hour with the caretaker.
-- What's going on here? -- asked the militiaman.
-- How do you like this! -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin interrupted him
-- This is the situation. This citizen lies here on the floor all the
time and interferes with us walking along the corridor. We've tried telling
him this and that...
But at this point Kalugin was interrupted by Selizneva, who said: --
We've asked him to go away, but he doesn't go away.
-- Yes -- said Korshunov.
The militiaman went up to Myshin.
-- You, citizen, why are you lying here? -- asked the militiaman.
-- I'm resting -- said Myshin.
-- Resting here is not good enough, citizen -- said the militiaman. --
Where do you live, citizen?
-- Here -- said Myshin.
-- Where's your room? -- asked the militiaman.
-- He's registered in our flat, but he doesn't have a room -- said
-- Wait a minute, citizen -- said the militiaman -- I'll have a word
with him now. Citizen, where do you sleep?
-- Here -- said Myshin.
-- Allow me to -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin interrupted him and said:
-- He doesn't even have a bed and he sprawls right on the bare floor.
-- They've been complaining about him for a long time -- said the
-- It's absolutely impossible to walk along the corridor -- said
Selizneva -- I can't keep stepping over a man for ever. And he sticks out
his legs on purpose, and he sticks out his hands, and he lies on his back
and looks up. I come back tired from work, I need a rest.
-- And I can add -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin interrupted him and
-- He lies here at night, as well. Everyone trips over him in the dark.
I tore my blanket because of him.
Selizneva said: -- He's always got tin-tacks and things falling out of
his pocket. It's impossible to walk barefooted down the corridor, or before
you know where you are -- you put your foot on something.
-- They wanted to set him alight with kerosene the other day -- said
-- We did pour kerosene over him -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin
interrupted him and said:
-- We only poured kerosene over him to scare him, but we weren't going
to set light to him.
-- Oh no, I wouldn't have a man burned alive in my presence -- said
-- But why is this citizen lying in the corridor? -- the militiaman
-- That's a fine how do you do! -- said Korshunov, but Kalugin
interrupted him and said:
-- Well, because he hasn't got any other living space: here's where I
live, in this room, and she's in that one, and that one's his, and so Myshin
lives here, in the corridor.
-- That's not good enough -- said the militiaman. -- Everyone should be
lying in their own living space.
-- But he hasn't got any other living space, except in the corridor --
-- That's just it -- said Korshunov.
-- And so he goes on lying here -- said Selizneva.
-- That's not good enough -- said the militiaman and went away,
together with the caretaker.
Korshunov leaped over to Myshin.
-- What about it? -- he yelled. -- How did you like that, then?
-- Wait -- said Kalugin. And, going up to Myshin, he said: -- Did you
hear what the militiaman said? Get up from the floor!
-- I won't get up -- said Myshin, continuing to lie there on the floor.
-- Now he will deliberately and furthermore and for ever keep on lying
there -- said Selizneva.
-- Definitely -- said Kalugin with some irritation.
And Korshunov said: -- I don't doubt it. Parfaitement!
Two men fell from a roof. They both fell from the roof of a five-storey
newly erected building. Seemingly a school. They had moved down the roof in
a sitting position to the very edge and at that point started to fall. Their
fall was noticed first of all by Ida Markovna. She was standing at her
window in the building opposite and was blowing her nose into a tumbler. And
suddenly she caught sight of someone starting to fall from the roof of the
building opposite. Peering out, Ida Markovna saw what was an entire twosome
starting to fall at once. Completely losing her head, Ida Markovna tore off
her shift and hurriedly began to rub the misted-over windowpane, the better
to make out who was falling from the roof out there. However, twigging that,
perhaps, those falling might, from their vantage point, be able to glimpse
her naked -- and goodness only knew what they might think of her -- Ida
Markovna jumped back from the window and hid behind the wicker tripod on
which there had at one time stood a pot plant.
At this juncture, those falling from the roof were sighted by another
personage who lived in the same building as Ida Markovna, only two floors
below. This personage was also called Ida Markovna. She happened at the time
to be sitting with her feet up on the window-sill and was sewing a button on
her slipper. Looking out of the window, she had caught sight of those
falling from the roof. Ida Markovna yelped and, leaping up from the
window-sill, hastily began opening the window, so as to get a better view
when those falling from the roof should strike the ground. But the window
would not open. Ida Markovna remembered that she had nailed the window from
beneath and rushed to the stove, in which she kept her tools: four hammers,
a chisel and pincers. Grabbing the pincers, Ida Markovna again ran up to the
window and pulled out the nail. Now the window was easily flung open. Ida
Markovna leaned out of the window and saw those who had fallen from the roof
whistling towards the ground.
On the street a smallish crowd had already gathered. Whistles were
already blowing and a diminutive militiaman was unhurriedly approaching the
location of the anticipated event. A big-nosed caretaker bustled about,
shoving people and explaining that those falling from the roof could smite
the heads of those gathered below. By this time, both Ida Markovnas -- the
one in a dress and the other naked -- having leaned out of their windows,
were squealing and kicking their legs about. And so, finally, arms spread
and eyes agape, those who had fallen from the roof struck the ground.
Just as on occasion we, falling from heights we have attained, may
strike the dreary cage of our future.
Written over four days. Finished 17 October 1940
Perechin sat on a drawing pin and, from this moment, his life changed
abruptly. From a contemplative, quiet man Perechin turned into a downright
scoundrel. He grew himself a moustache and henceforth trimmed it extremely
untidily, in such a way that the one side of his moustache was always longer
than the other. And so his moustache came to grow somehow askew. It became
impossible to look at Perechin. What is more, he would give a repulsive wink
of the eye and twitch his cheek. For a certain time Perechin confined
himself to petty and reprehensible tricks: he told tales, denounced people,
and cheated tram conductors by paying them his fare in the very smallest
copper coin and each time two or three kopecks short.
Pronin said: -- You have very beautiful stockings.
Irina Mazer said: -- Do you like my stockings?
Pronin said: -- Oh yes. Very much. -- And he made a grab at them with
Irina said: -- But why do you like my stockings?
Pronin said: -- They are very smooth.
Irina lifted her skirt and said: -- And do you see how high they go?
Pronin said: -- Oh yes, I do.
Irina said: -- But here they come to an end. Up here it's bare leg.
-- Oh, and what leg! -- said Pronin.
-- I've got very thick legs -- said Irina. -- And I'm very wide in the
-- Show me -- said Pronin.
-- I can't -- said Irina. -- I've no knickers on.
Pronin got down on his knees in front or her.
Irina said: -- What are you kneeling for?
Pronin kissed her on the leg, a little above the stocking top, and
said: -- That's what for.
Irina said: -- Why are you lifting my skirt even higher? I've already
told you I've no knickers on.
But Pronin lifted her skirt all the same and said: -- Never mind, never
-- What do you mean, never mind? -- said Irina.
But at this juncture someone was knocking at the door. Irina briskly
pulled down her skirt and Pronin got up from the floor and went over to the
-- Who's there? -- asked Irina through the door.
-- Open the door -- said a sharp voice.
Irina opened the door and into the room came a man in a black coat and
high boots. Behind him came a pair of soldiers of the lowest rank, rifles at
the ready, and behind them came the caretaker. The lower ranks stood by the
door, while the man in the black coat went up to Irina Mazer and said: --
-- Mazer -- said Irina.
-- Your name? -- asked the man in the black coat, turning to Pronin .
Pronin said: -- My name is Pronin.
-- Do you have a weapon? -- asked the man in the black coat.
-- No -- said Pronin.
-- Sit down here -- said the man in the black coat, indicating a chair
Pronin sat down.
-- And you -- said the man in the black coat, turning to Irina, -- put
your coat on. You'll have to come for a ride with us.
-- What for? -- asked Irina.
The man in the black coat did not reply.
-- I'll need to change -- said Irina.
-- No -- said the man in the black coat.
-- But there's something else I need to put on -- said Irina. -- No --
said the man in the black coat.
Irina put on her fur coat in silence.
-- Good-bye, then -- she said to Pronin.
-- Conversations are not allowed -- said the man in the black coat.
-- Do I come with you as well? -- asked Pronin.
-- Yes -- said the man in the black coat. -- Get your coat on. Pronin
stood up, took his coat and hat down from the peg, put them on and said: --
Well, I'm ready. -- Let's go -- said the man in the black coat.
The lower ranks and the caretaker stamped their feet.
They all went out into the corridor.
The man in the black coat locked the door of Irina's room and sealed it
with two brown seals.
-- Outside -- he said.
And they all went out of the flat, loudly slamming the outside door.
<They Call Me the Capuchin>
An old man set out to go into the woods, although he didn't know what
for. Then he came back and said:
-- Hey, old woman, you!
The old woman fell straight down. Since then, the hares are white in
Anton Mikhailovich spat, said 'ugh', spat again, again said 'ugh',
again spat, again said 'ugh' and walked away. And to hell with him. I'd do
better to talk about Il'ya Pavlovich.
Il'ya Pavlovich was born in 1893 in Constantinople.
When he was still a small boy, he was taken to Petersburg and hero he
went to the German school on Kirochnaya Street. Then he worked in some shop
or other, then he did something else and at the beginning of the revolution
he emigrated abroad. Well and to hell with him. I'd do better to talk about
But to talk about Anna Ignat'evna is not so very simple. In the first
place I don't know anything about her and in the second place I have now
fallen off my chair and forgotten what I had intended to say. I'd do better
to talk about myself.
I am on the tall side, quite intelligent, I'm a flashy dresser with a
bit of taste, I don't drink, I don't go to the races, but I do chase the
ladies. And the ladies don't avoid me. They even like it when I muck around
with them. Serafima Izmailovna has often invited me round and Zinaida
Yakovlevna also used to say that she was always pleased to see me. But there
did occur between me and Marina Pavlovna an amusing incident which I want to
tell you about. It was a completely ordinary incident, but all the same an
amusing one for, thanks to me, Marina Pavlovna went absolutely bald, like
the palm of your hand. It happened like this: once I arrived at Marina
Pavlovna's and bang! -- she went bald. And that's all there is to it.
Without boasting, I can tell you that, when Volodya struck me across
the ear and spat in my face, I really got him, so that he won't forget it.
It was only after that that I hit him with his primus and it was evening
when I hit him with the iron. So he didn't die straight away by any means.
This doesn't prove that I cut his leg off as early as the afternoon. He was
still alive then. Whereas Andryusha I killed simply from inertia, and I
can't hold myself responsible for that. Why did Andryusha and Yelizaveta
Antonovna fall into my hands anyway? They had no business springing out from
behind the door. I am being accused of bloodthirstiness; they say I drank
blood, but that is not true: I licked up the pools of blood and stains -- it
is a man's natural urge to wipe out the traces of even the most trivial of
crimes. And also I did not rape Yelizaveta Antonovna. In the first place,
she was no longer a virgin; and secondly I was having dealings with a
corpse, so she has no cause for complaint. What about the fact that she just
happened to have to give birth? Well, I did pull out the infant. The fact
that he was not long for this world anyway, well that's really not my fault.
I didn't tear his head off; it was his thin neck that did that. He was
simply not created for this life. It's true that I stomped their dog to a
pulp around the floor, but it's really cynical to accuse me of murdering the
dog when in the immediate vicinity, it might be said, three human lives had
been obliterated. The infant I don't count. Well, all right then, in all
this (I can agree with you) it is possible to discern a degree of severity
on my part. But to consider it a crime that I squatted down and defecated on
my victims -- that is really, if you'll excuse me, absurd. Defecation is an
urge of nature and consequently can in no sense be criminal. All things
considered, I do understand the misgivings of my defence counsel, but all
the same I am hoping for a complete acquittal.
Now I will describe how I was born, how I grew up and how the first
signs of genius were discovered in me. I was born twice. This is how it
My Dad got married to my Mum in 1902, but my parents brought me into
the world only at the end of 1905, because Dad was adamant that his child
should be born at New Year. Dad calculated that conception had to take place
on the first of April and only on that day did he get round my Mum with the
proposition of conceiving a child.
My Dad got round my Mum on the first of April 1903. Mum had long been
awaiting this moment and was terribly thrilled. But Dad, as it seems, was in
a very playful mood and could not restrain himself, saying to Mum: 'April
Mum was absolutely furious and didn't allow Dad anywhere near her that
day. There was nothing for it but to wait until the following year.
On the first of April 1904, Dad again started getting round Mum with
the same proposition. But Mum, remembering what had happened the year
before, said that she had no further desire to be left in that stupid
position and again would not allow Dad near her. It didn't matter how much
noise Dad created, it got him nowhere.
And only a year later did my Dad manage to have his way with my Mum and
And so my conception took place on the first of April 1905.
However, all Dad's calculations broke down because I turned out to be
premature and was born four months before my time.
Dad created such a fuss that the midwife who had delivered me lost her
head and started to shove me back in, from where I had only just emerged.
An acquaintance of ours who was in attendance, a student from the
military medical academy, declared that shoving me back in would not work.
However, the student's words notwithstanding, they still shoved me and
shoved me back, for all they were worth.
At this point a fearful commotion broke out.
The progenetrix yells: -- Give me my baby!
And the response comes: -- Your baby -- they tell her -- is inside you.
-- What! -- yells the progenetrix. -- How can my baby be inside me when
I have just given birth to him!
-- But -- they say to the progenetrix -- mightn't you be mistaken?
-- What! -- yells the progenetrix -- mistaken? How can I be mistaken! I
saw the baby myself, he was lying here on a sheet only just now!
-- That is true -- they tell the progenetrix -- but perhaps he's
crawled off somewhere. -- In a word, they themselves don't know what to tell
And the progenetrix is still making a noise and demanding her baby.
There was nothing for it, but to call an experienced doctor. The
experienced doctor examined the progenetrix and threw up his hands; however,
he thought it all out and gave the progenetrix a good dose of English salts,
and by this means I saw the light of day for the second time.
At this juncture, Dad again started creating a fuss, saying that,
surely, this couldn't be called a birth, that this, surely, couldn't yet be
called a human being, but rather a semifoetus, and that it ought to either
be shoved back again or put into a incubator.
And so they put me into an incubator.
I sat in the incubator for four months. I remember only that the
incubator was made of glass, was transparent and had a thermometer. I sat
inside the incubator on cotton wool. I don't remember anything else about
After four months they took me out of the incubator. They did this, as
it happens, on the first of January 1906.
By this means, I was to all intents and purposes born for a third time.
But it was the first of January that was counted as my birthday.
* Note: Daniil Kharms was in fact born on 17 December (Old Style) / 25
December (New Style), 1905.
A Fairy-Tale from the North
Once I arrived at Gosizdat <publishing house> and there in Gosizdat met
Yevgeny L'vovich Shvarts who, as always, was badly dressed but with
pretention to something.
Catching sight of me, Shvarts began to crack jokes but also, as always,
I cracked jokes significantly more successfully and soon, with regard
to intellectual relations, put Shvarts squarely on his back.
Everyone around envied my wit, but they could do nothing about it as
they literally killed themselves laughing. In particular Nina Vladimirovna
Gernet and David Yefimych Rakhmilovich, who called himself Eugene because of
the sound of it, used to kill themselves laughing.
Seeing that his jokes didn't work with me, Shvarts started to change
his tone and in the end, cursing me up and down, declared that everyone in
Tiflis knows Zabolotsky and hardly anyone knows me.
At this point I lost my temper and said that I was more historically
important than Shvarts and Zabolotsky, that I shall leave a radiant mark
upon history, while they will quickly be forgotten.
Having got the feel of my magnitude and my major world significance,
Shvarts gradually began to palpitate and invited me round for dinner.
I decided to mess up the party, and that's what I'm going to do.
I'll start with Valentina Yefimovna. This inhospitable personage
invites us round and instead of a meal she puts on the table some awful sour
stuff. I enjoy eating and I know what's what when it comes to food. You
can't fool me with sour muck! I even go into restaurants on occasions and
see what sort of food they have there. And I cannot stand it when this
particularity of my character is not recognized.
Now I'll move on to Leonid Savel'evich Lipavsky. He didn't shrink from
telling me in my face that every month he composes ten thoughts.
In the first place, he's lying. He doesn't compose ten, it's less.
And secondly, I think up more. I haven't counted up how many I think up
in a month, but it must be more than he does...
And I, for example, don't throw it in everyone's face that I, say,
possess a colossal mind. I have quite sufficient evidence to consider myself
a great man. Yes and, at any rate, I do consider myself such.
That is why it is insulting and painful for me to find myself among
people who are inferior to me in terms of mind, insight and talent, and not
to feel that I am accorded the respect that is fully my due.
Why, oh why am I better than everyone else?
Now I have understood everything: Leonid Savel'evich is a German. He
even has German habits. Look at the way he eats. Well, he's a pure German,
that's all there is to it! Even by his legs you can tell that he's a German.
Without boasting at all, I am able to say that I am very observant and
So, for example, if you take Leonid Savel'evich, Yuri Berzin and Vol'f
Erlikh and line them all up together on the pavement, then you could well
call them: major, minor and minimus.
In my view that's witty, because it's moderately funny.
And all the same, Leonid Savel'evich is a German! I really must tell
him this when I see him.
I don't consider myself an especially intelligent person, but all the
same I have to say that I'm more intelligent than all the rest. Perhaps
there's someone more intelligent than me on Mars, but I don't know about on
For instance, they say that Oleinikov is very intelligent. And in my
view he is intelligent, but not very. He discovered, for example, that if
you write a '6' and turn it upside down, then you get a '9'. And in my view
that's just stupid.
Leonid Savel'evich is absolutely right when he says that someone's mind
is their worth. And if there is no mind, that means there is no worth. Yakov
Semyonovich argues with Leonid Savel'evich and says that someone's mind is
their weakness. And in my view that's already a paradox. Why ever should the
mind be a weakness? Not at all. Rather, it's a stronghold. I think so,
We often get together at Leonid Savel'evich's and talk about this. If
an argument breaks out, then I always turn out the winner of the argument. I
myself don't know why.
Everyone regards me with a certain astonishment for some reason.
Whatever I do, everyone finds it astonishing.
I don't even make any effort. Everything seems to work out of its own
Zabolotsky said some time that I was born to govern the spheres. He
must have been joking. No such idea has ever entered my head.
In the Writers' Union I am considered an angel, for some reason.
Listen, my friends! In fact you shouldn't bend the knee before me like
that. I am just the same as all of you, only better.
I have heard the phrase: 'Seize the moment'. It's easily said, but hard
to do. In my view, it's a meaningless expression. And really, you can't call
for the impossible.
I say this with complete certainty, because I have tested everything on
myself. I have grabbed at the moment but not managed to seize it and have
merely broken my watch. Now I know that it's impossible.
it's also impossible to 'seize the epoch', because it's the same as the
moment, only a bit more so.
It's another matter if you say: 'Document what is happening at this
moment'... That is quite another matter.
So, for example: one, two, three! Nothing happened! And so I have
documented a moment in which nothing happened.
I told Zabolotsky about this. He was very taken by this and sat the
whole day counting: one, two, three! And made notes that nothing had
Shvarts caught Zabolotsky at this activity. And Shvarts also took an
interest in this original means of documenting what was happening in our
epoch, since an epoch is formed out of moments.
But I beg to draw your attention to the fact that once again I was the
prime mover of this method. Me again! Me everywhere! It's simply
What comes with difficulty to others comes easily to me!
I can even fly. But I'm not going to tell you about that because, come
what may, nobody will believe it.
Whenever two people are playing chess, it always seems to me that one
is fooling the other. Especially if they are playing for money.
In general, I find any kind of playing for money disgusting. I forbid
gambling in my presence.
And as for card players, I would have them executed. That would be the
best method of getting to grips with games of chance.
Instead of playing card games, it would be better if people would get
together and read each other a bit of ethics.
Though ethics is rather boring. Womanizing is more fun.
Women have always interested me. Women's legs have always excited me,
especially above the knee.
Many people consider women to be depraved creatures. But not me! On the
contrary, I even consider them to be somehow quite pleasant.
A plumpish young woman! What's depraved about her? She's not depraved
Children are another matter. They are usually said to be innocent. And
I consider that they might well be innocent, but anyway they are highly
loathsome, especially when they are dancing. I always make an exit from
anywhere where there are children.
Leonid Savel'evich also doesn't like children. And it was me who
inspired him with such ideas.
... Generally speaking, everything that Leonid Savel'evich says has
already been said some time earlier by me.
And that doesn't only go for Leonid Savel'evich.
Everyone is only too pleased to pick up even scraps of my ideas. I even
find this funny.
For example, Oleinikov ran up to me yesterday, saying that he had got
into a complete muddle over questions of existence. I gave him some sort of
advice and discharged him. He went off delighted with me and in his very
People see me as a means of support, they repeat my words, they are
astonished by my actions, but they don't pay me money.
Foolish people! Bring me money, the more the better, and you will see
how pleased that will make me.
Now I'll say a few words about Aleksandr Ivanovich.1
He's a wind-bag and a card player. But what I value him for is his
obedience to me.
By day and by night he dances attendance on me, just waiting for a hint
from me of some command. I have only to proffer such a hint and Aleksandr
Ivanovich flies like the wind to carry out my wish. For this I bought him
some shoes and said: -- There you are, wear them! And so he wears them.
Whenever Aleksandr Ivanovich arrives at Gosizdat, they all laugh and
say to each other that Aleksandr Ivanovich has come for his money.
Konstantin Ignat'evich Drovatsky hides under the table. I say this in
an allegorical sense.
More than anything, Aleksandr Ivanovich loves macaroni.
He always eats it with ground rusks and he gobbles up almost a whole
kilo, and perhaps even much more.
Having eaten his macaroni, Aleksandr Ivanovich says he feels sick and
lies down on the divan. Sometimes the macaroni comes back up.
Aleksandr Ivanovich doesn't eat meat and he doesn't like women.
Although sometimes he likes them. Apparently, even very often.
But the women whom Aleksandr Ivanovich likes, to my taste, are all
ugly, and therefore we shall consider that they are not even women at all.
If I say a thing, that means it's correct. I don't advise anyone to
argue with me, as they will just be made a fool of, because I get the last
word with everyone.
And it's no use you bandying words with me. That's already been tried.
I've seen them all off! Never mind that I look as though I can barely talk,
but when I get going, there's no stopping me.
Once I got going at the Lipavskys and that was that! I talked them all
to death! Then I went off to the Zabolotskys and talked everyone's head off
there. Then I went to the Shvartses and talked everyone's head off there.
Then I arrived home and talked half the night away again there!
1 A. I. Vvedensky was a close friend of D. Kharms.
Memoirs <"I Decided to Mess up the Party...">
I love sensual women and not passionate ones. A passionate woman closes
her eyes, moans and shouts and the enjoyment of a passionate woman is blind.
A passionate woman writhes about, grabs you with her hands without looking
where, clasps you, kisses you, even bites you and hurries to reach her
climax as soon as she can. She has no time to display her sexual organs, no
time to examine, touch with the hand and kiss your sexual organs, she is in
such a hurry to slake her passion. Having slaked her passion, the passionate
woman will fall asleep. The sexual organs of a passionate woman are dry. A
passionate woman is always in some way or another mannish.
The sensual woman is always feminine.
Her contours are rounded and abundant.
The sensual woman rarely reaches a blind passion. She savours sexual
enjoyment. The sensual woman is always a woman and even in an unaroused
state her sexual organs are moist. She has to wear a bandage on her sexual
organs, so as not to soak them with moisture.
When she takes the bandage off in the evening, the bandage is so wet
that it can be squeezed out.
Thanks to such an abundance of juices, the sexual organs of a sensual
woman give off a slight, pleasant smell which increases strongly when the
sensual woman is aroused. Then the juice from her sexual organs is secreted
in a syrupy stream.
A sensual woman likes you to examine her sexual organs.
But the artist sat the nude model on the table and moved her legs
apart. The girl hardly resisted and merely covered her face with her hands.
Amonova and Strakhova said that first the girl should have been taken
off to the bathroom and washed between her legs, as any whiff of such an
aroma was simply repulsive. The girl wanted to jump up but the artist held
her back and asked her to take no notice and sit there, just as he had
placed her. The girl, not knowing what she was supposed to do, sat back down
again. The artist and his female colleagues took their respective seats and
began sketching the nude model. Petrova said that the nude model was a very
seductive woman, but Strakhova and Amonova said that she was rather plump
and indecent. Zolotogromov said that this was what made her seductive, but
Strakhova said that this was simply repulsive, and not at all seductive.
-- Look -- said Strakhova -- ugh! It's pouring out of her on to the
table cloth. What is there seductive about that, when I can sniff the smell
off her from here.
Petrova said that this only showed her feminine strength. Abel'far
blushed and agreed. Amonova said she had seen nothing like it, that you get
to the highest point of arousal and it still wouldn't secrete like this girl
did. Petrova said that, faced with that, one could get aroused oneself and
that Zolotogromov must already be aroused.
Zolotogromov agreed that the girl was having quite an effect on him.
Abel'far sat there red in the face and she was breathing heavily.
-- However, the air in this room is becoming unbearable -- said
Strakhova. Abel'far fidgeted on her chair and then leapt up and went out of
-- There -- said Petrova -- you see the result of female seductiveness.
It even acts on the ladies. Abel'far has gone off to put herself to rights.
I can feel that I will soon have to do the same thing.
-- That -- said Amonova -- only shows the advantage we thin women
possess. Everything with us is always as it should be. But both you and
Abel'far are splendiferous ladies and you have to keep yourselves very much
-- Yet -- said Zolotogromov -- splendiferousness and a certain lack of
bodily hygiene are what is to be particularly valued in a woman.
* Zolotogromov is a male surname; all other characters are female.
<"I Love Sensual Women...">
A Comedy in Three Parts
GRANNY Bobrov (Playing patience) Now that's the card. Oh, it's all
coming out topsy-turvy! A king. And where am I supposed to put that? Just
when you want one, there's never a five around. Oh, I could do with a five!
Now it'll be the five. Oh, sod it, another king!
She flings the cards on to the table with such force that a porcelain
vase falls off the table and smashes.
GRANNY Oh! Oh! My Gawd! These bloody cards! (She crawls under the table
and picks up the pieces). This'll never glue back together again. And it was
a good vase, too. You can't get them like that any more. This bit's right
over there! (Stretches for the piece. BOBROV enters the room).
BOBROV Granny! Is that you clambering about under the table?
GRANNY Yes, okay, okay. What do you want?
BOBROV I just came to ask you: you wouldn't happen to have a chest of
GRANNY Come on then, give me a hand up from under the table.
BOBROV What have you done, dropped something? Oh, you've broken the
GRANNY (Mimicking him) You've broken the vase!
(BOBROV helps GRANNY up. But as soon as he lets go of her, GRANNY sits
back down on the floor).
BOBROV Oh, you're down again!
GRANNY Down, so now what?
BOBROV Let me help you up (Pulls GRANNY up).
GRANNY The cards were going badly. I tried this and that... But don't
pull me by the arms, get hold of me under the armpits. All I got, you know,
was king after king. I need a five and all the kings keep turning up.
BOBROV lets go of GRANNY and GRANNY again sprawls on the floor.
BOBROV Oh, Lord! You're down again.
GRANNY What are you on about: down, down! What are you after, anyway?
BOBROV I came to ask if you've a chest of tea.
GRANNY I know that. You've already told me. I don't like listening to
the same tale twenty times. The thing is: akh, I'm down again! and a chest
of tea. Well, what are you looking at! Get me up, I'm telling you.
BOBROV (Pulling GRANNY up) I'll just, excuse me, put you in the
GRANNY You'd do better to prattle on a bit less and pull me up in a
proper fashion. I meant to tell you, and it almost slipped my mind: you
know, that door in my bedroom isn't shutting properly again. No doubt you
messed the whole thing up.
BOBROV No, I put a staple on with fillister-head screws.
GRANNY Do you think I know anything about staples and fillister heads?
I don't care about all that. I just want the door to shut.
BOBROV It doesn't shut properly because the fillister heads won't stay
in the woodwork.
GRANNY That'll do, that'll do. That's your business. I just need to...
Akh! (She again sprawls on the floor).
BOBROV Oh, Lord!
GRANNY Have you decided to fling me to the floor deliberately? Decided
to have a bit of fun? Oh you useless devil! You're just a useless devil and
you might as well clear off!
BOBROV No, Granny, 'onest injun, I just meant to put you in the
GRANNY Did you hear what I said? I told you to clear out! So why aren't
you going? Well, why aren't you going? Do you hear? Clear off out of it!
Well? Bugger off! (exits BOBROV)
GRANNY Off! Go on! Away! Bugger off! Talk about a reprobate! (Gets up
from the floor and sits in the armchair). And his wife is simply an indecent
madam. The madam walks about absolutely starkers and doesn't bat an eyelid,
even in front of me, an old woman. She covers her indecent patch with the
palm of her hand, and that's the way she walks around. And then she touches
bread with that hand at lunchtime. It's simply revolting to watch. She
thinks that if she's young and pretty, then she can do anything she likes.
And as for herself, the trollop, she never washes herself properly just
where she should do. I, she says, like a whiff of woman to come from a
woman! And as for me, as soon as I see her coming, I'm straight into the
bathroom with the eau de Cologne to my nose. Perhaps it may be nice for men,
but as for me, you can spare me that. The shameless hussy! She goes around
naked without the slightest embarrassment. And when she sits down she
doesn't even keep her legs together properly, so that everything's on show.
And -- there, she's well just always wet. She's leaking like that all the
time. If you tell her she should go and wash herself, she will say you
shouldn't wash there too often and she'll take a handkerchief and just wipe
herself. And you're lucky if it's a handkerchief, because just with her hand
she smears it all over the place. I never give her my hand, as there's
perpetually an indecent smell from her hands. And her breasts are indecent.
It's true, they are very fine and bouncy, but they are so big that, in my
opinion, they're simply indecent. That's the wife that Foma found for
himself! How she ever got round him is beyond me.
Foma Bobrov and his Spouse
A Tragic Vaudeville in One Act
LEV MARKOVICH (Bouncing up to the LADY) Let me!
LADY (Keeping him at arms length) Leave me!
LEV MARKOVICH (Bumping into her) Let me!
LADY (Shoving him with her knees) Go away!
LEV MARKOVICH (Gripping her with his hands) Let's, just once!
LADY (Shoving him with her knees) Away! Away!
LEV MARKOVICH Just one thrust!
LADY (Bellowing) No-o.
LEV MARKOVICH A thrust! One thrust!
LADY (Shows the whites of her eyes).
LEV MARKOVICH fumbles around, reaches with his hand for his tool and
suddenly, as it turns out, he can't find it.
LEV MARKOVICH Wait a minute! (Feels himself up and down with his
hands). What the h-hell!
LADY looks at LEV MARKOVICH with astonishment.
LEV MARKOVICH Well, that's a damn funny thing!
LADY What's happened?
LEV MARKOVICH Hum ... hmm ... (looks around, completely flummoxed).
-- They say all the best tarts are fat-arsed. Gee-ee, I really like
busty tarts, I love the way they smell.
Having said this, he started to increase in height and, upon reaching
the ceiling, he crumbled into a thousand little pellets. The yard-keeper
Panteley came, swept all these pellets up into his scoops in which he
usually picked up the horse muck, and he carried these pellets away
somewhere to the back yard.
And the sun continued to shine as ever and splendiferous ladies
continued to smell just as ravishingly as ever.
Disarmed, or Unfortunate in Love
I didn't go in for blocking up my ears. Everyone blocked theirs up and
I alone didn't block mine and therefore I alone heard everything. Similarly,
I didn't blindfold myself with a rag, as everyone else did, and therefore I
saw everything. Yes, I alone saw and heard everything. But unfortunately I
didn't understand anything and, therefore, what was the value of me alone
seeing and hearing everything? I couldn't even remember what I had seen and
heard. Just a few fragmentary recollections, flourishes and nonsensical
sounds. There was a tram conductor who came running through, followed by an
elderly lady with a spade between her lips. Someone said: '... probably from
under her chair...' A naked Jewish girl spreads her legs and empties a cup
of milk over her sexual organs, the milk trickles down into a deep dinner
plate. From the plate, the milk is poured back into the cup and offered to
me to drink. I take a drink: there is a smell of cheese from the milk...
The naked Jewish girl is sitting there before me with her legs apart,
her sexual organs stained with milk. She leans forward and looks at her
sexual organs. From her sexual organs there starts to flow a transparent and
syrupy liquid... I am going through a big and rather dark yard. In the yard
there lie high, heaped up piles of firewood. From behind the wood someone's
face is looking out. I know: it's Limonin following me. He's on the watch:
to see whether I'm going to visit his wife. I turn to the right and go
through the outside door on to the street. From the gateway the joyful face
of Limonin is looking out... And now Limonin's wife is offering me vodka. I
down four glasses with a few sardines and start thinking about the naked
Jewish girl. Limonin's wife puts her head on my knees. I knock back one more
glass and light up my pipe.
-- You are so sad today -- Limonin's wife says to me. I tell her some
nonsense or other and go off to the Jewish girl.
1. Do not take offense at the following argument, for there is nothing
offensive in it, unless one does not consider that the circle may be spoken
of in a geometrical sense. If I say that the circle describes four identical
radii, and you say: not four, but one, then we have a right to ask one
another: why? But I don't want to talk about that kind of description of the
circle, but of the perfect description of a circle.
2. The circle is the most perfect flat figure. I am not going to say
why in particular that is so. But this fact arises of itself in our
consciousness in any consideration of flat figures.
3. Nature is so created that the less noticeable the laws of formation,
the more perfect the thing.
4. Nature is also so created that the more impenetrable a thing, the
more perfect it is.
5. On perfection, I would say the following: perfection in things is a
perfect thing. It is always possible to study a perfect thing or, in other
words, in a perfect thing these is always something not studied. If a thing
should prove to have been completely studied, then it would cease to be
perfect, for only that which is incomplete is perfect -- that is to say the
6. A point is infinitely small and thereby attains perfection, but at
the same time it remains inconceivable. Even the smallest conceivable point
would not be perfect.
7. A straight line is perfect, for there is no reason for it not to be
infinitely long on both sides, to have neither end nor beginning, and
thereby be inconceivable. But by putting pressure on it and limiting it on
both sides, we render it conceivable, but at the same time imperfect.
If you believe this, then think on.
8. A straight line, broken at one point, forms an angle. But a straight
line which is broken simultaneously at all its points is called a curve. A
curve does not have to be of necessity infinitely long. It may be such that
we can grasp it freely at a glance and yet at the same time remain
inconceivable and infinite. I am talking about a closed curve, in which the
beginning and the end are concealed. And the most regular, inconceivable,
infinite and ideal curve will be a circle.
17 July 1931
1. Advice to humourous performers
I have noticed that it is very important to determine the point at
which laughter can be induced. If you want the auditorium to laugh, come out
on to the stage and stand there in silence until someone bursts out
laughing. Then wait a little bit longer until someone else starts laughing,
and in such a way that everyone can hear. However, this laughter must be
genuine and claqueurs, in such an instance, should not be used. When all
this has taken place, then the point at which laughter can be induced has
been reached. After this you may proceed to your programme of humour and,
rest assured, success is guaranteed.
2. Where are several sorts of laughter.
There is the average sort of laughter, when the whole hall laughs, but
not at full volume. There is the strong sort of laughter, when just one part
of the hall or another laughs, but at full volume, and the other part of the
hall remains silent as, in this case, the laughter doesn't get to it at all.
The former sort of laughter requires vaudeville delivery from a vaudeville
actor, but the latter sort is better. The morons don't have to laugh.
<"I didn't go in for blocking up my ears...">
1. A world which is not can not be called existing, because it is not.
2. A world consisting of something unified, homogeneous and continuous
can not be called existing, because in such a world there are no parts and,
once there are no parts, there is no whole.
3. An existing world must be heterogeneous and have parts.
4. Every two parts are different, because one part will always be thus
one and the other that one.
5. If only this one exists, then that one cannot exist, because, as we
have said, only this exists. But such a this cannot exist, because if this
exists it must be heterogeneous and have parts. And if it has parts that
means it consists of this and that.
6. If this and that exist, this means that not this and not that exist,
because if not this and not that did not exist, then this and that would be
unified, homogeneous and continuous and consequently would also not exist.
7. We shall call the first part this and the second part that and the
transition from one to the other we shall call neither this nor that.
8. We shall call neither this nor that 'the impediment'.
9. Thus: the basis of existence comprises three elements: this, the
impediment and that.
10. We shall express non-existence as zero or a unity. Therefore we
shall have to express existence by the number three.
11. Thus: dividing a unitary void into two parts, we get the trinity of
12. Or: a unitary void, experiencing a certain impediment, splits into
parts, which make up the trinity of existence.
13. The impediment is that creator which creates 'something' out of
14. If this one, on its own, is 'nothing' or a non-existent
'something', then the 'impediment' is also 'nothing' or a non-existent
15. By this reckoning there must be two 'nothings' or nonexistent
16. If there are two 'nothings' or non-existent 'somethings', then one
of them is the 'impediment' to the other, breaking it down into parts and
becoming itself a part of the other.
17. In the same way the other, being the impediment to the first,
splits it into parts and itself becomes a part of the first.
18. In this way are created, of their own accord, non-existent parts.
19. Three, of their own accord, non-existent parts create the three
basic elements of existence.
20. The three, of their own accord, non-existent basic elements of
existence, all three together, make up a certain existence.
21. If one of the three basic elements of existence should disappear,
then the whole would disappear. So: should the 'impediment' disappear, then
this one and that one would become unitary and continuous and would cease to
22. The existence of our universe generates three 'nothings' or
separately, on their own account, three non-existent 'somethings': space,
time and something else which is neither time nor space.
23. Time, of its essence, is unitary, homogeneous and continuous and
thereby does not exist.
24. Space, of its essence, is unitary, homogeneous and continuous and
thereby does not exist.
25. But as soon as space and time enter into a certain mutual
relationship they become the impediment, the one of the other, and begin to
26. As they begin to exist, space and time become mutually parts, one
of the other.
27. Time, experiencing the impediment of space, breaks down into parts,
generating the trinity of existence.
28. A split down and existing, consists of the three basic elements of
existence: the past, the present and the future .
29. The past, the present and the future, as basic elements of
existence, always stood in inevitable dependence, each on the other. There
cannot be a past without a present and a future, or a present without a past
and a future, or a future without a past and a present.
30. Examining these three elements separately, we see that there is no
past because it has already gone and here is no future because it has not
yet come. That means that there remains only one thing -- the 'present'. But
what is the 'present'?
31. When we are pronouncing this word, the letters of this word which
have been pronounced become past and the unpronounced letters still lie in
the future. This means that only that sound which is being pronounced now is
32. But of course the process of pronouncing this sound possesses a
certain length. Consequently, a certain part of this process is 'present',
just as the other parts are either past or future. But the same thing too
may be said of this part of the process which had seemed to us to be 'the
33. Reflecting in this manner, we see that there is no 'present'.
34. The present is only the 'impediment' in the transition from past to
future and past and future appear to us as the this and that of the
existence of time.
35. Thus: the present is the 'impediment' in the existence of time and,
as we said earlier, space serves as the impediment in the existence of time.
36. By this means: the 'present' of time is space.
37. There is no space in the past and the future, it being contained
entirely in the 'present'. And the present is space.
38. And since there is no present, neither is there any space.
39. We have explained the existence of time but space, of its own
accord, does not yet exist.
40. In order to explain the existence of space, we must take that
incidence when time performs as the impediment of space.
41. Experiencing the impediment of time, space splits into parts,
generating the trinity of existence.
42. Broken down, existing space consists of three elements: there, here
43. In the transition from one there to the other there, it is
necessary to overcome the impediment here, because if it were not for the
impediment here, then the one there and the other there would be unitary.
44. Here is the 'impediment' of existing space. And, as we said above,
the impediment of existing space is time.
45. Therefore: the here of space is time.
46. The here of space and the 'present' of time are the points of
intersection between time and space.
47. Examining space and time as basic elements in the existence of the
universe, we would say: the universe expresses space, time and something
else which is neither time nor space.
48. That 'something' which is neither time nor space is the
'impediment', which generates the existence of the universe.
49. This 'something' expresses the impediment between time and space.
50. Therefore this 'something' lies at the point of intersection of
time and space.
51. Consequently this 'something' is to be found in time at the point
of the 'present' and in space at the point of the 'here'.
52. This 'something' which is to be found at the point of intersection
of space and time generates a certain 'impediment', separating the 'here'
from the 'present'.
53. This 'something', generating the impediment and separating the
'here' from the 'present', creates a certain existence which we call matter
or energy. (Henceforth we shall provisionally call this simply matter.)
54. Thus: the existence of the universe, as organised by space, time
and their impediment, is expressed as matter.
55. Matter testifies to us of time.
56. Matter testifies to us of space.
57. By this means: the three basic elements of the existence of the
universe are perceived by us as time, space and matter.
58. Time, space and matter, intersecting one with another at definite
points and being basic elements in the existence of the universe, generate a
59. We shall call this node -- the Node of the Universe.
60. When I say of myself: 'I am', I am placing myself within the Node
of the Universe.
On Time, Space and Existence
On an Approach to Immortality
It is peculiar to each person to strive for enjoyment, which is always
either sexual satisfaction, or satiation, or acquisition.
But only that which lies not on the path to enjoyment leads towards
immortality. All systems leading to immortality in the end come down to a
single rule: continually do that which you don't feel like doing, because
every person feels like either eating, or satisfying their sexual feelings,
or acquiring something, or all of these more or less at a stroke. It is
interesting that immortality is always connected with death and is treated
by various religious systems as eternal enjoyment, or as eternal torment, or
as an eternal absence of enjoyment and torment.
28 June 1932. Tsarskoye Selo
Dear Tamara Aleksandrova and Leonid Savel'evich,
Thank you for your wonderful letter. I have re-read it many times and
learned it off by heart. I can be awakened in the night and I will
immediately and word-perfectly begin: 'Hello there, Daniil Ivanovich, we are
completely lost without you. Lyonya has bought himself some new...' and so
on, and so on.
I have read this letter to all my acquaintances in Tsarskoye Selo.
Everyone likes it very much. Yesterday my friend Bal'nis came to see me. He
wanted to stay the night. I read him your letter six times. He smiled very
broadly, so it was evident that he liked the letter, but he didn't have time
to express a detailed opinion, for he left without staying for the night.
Today I went round to his place myself and read the letter through to him
once more, so as to enable him to refresh his memory. Then I asked Bal'nis
for his opinion. But he broke a leg off one of his chairs and with the aid
of this leg he chased me out on to the street and furthermore said that if I
turn up once more with this drivel he will lie my hands up and stuff my
mouth with muck from the rubbish pit. These were, of course, on his part
rather rude and stupid remarks. I, of course, went away and took the view
that he quite possibly had a bad cold and that he was not himself. From
Bal'nis I went off to Yekaterinskiy Park and had a go on the rowing boats.
On the whole lake, apart from me, there were two or three other boats. And,
by the way, there was a very beautiful girl in one of the boats. And she was
completely on her own. I turned my boat (incidentally, you have to row
carefully when you're turning a boat, because the oars are liable to jump
out of the rowlocks) and rowed after the beauty. I felt as though I
resembled a Norwegian and I must have cut a fresh and healthy figure in my
grey jacket and my fluttering tie and, as they say, had quite a whiff of the
sea about me. But near the Orlov Column some hooligans were swimming and, as
I rowed past, one of them just happened to have to swim right across my
path. Then another of them shouted: -- Wait a minute, while this cross-eyed
and sweaty specimen goes past! -- and pointed at me with his foot. This was
very disagreeable because the beauty heard every word. And since she was
rowing in front of me and in a rowing boat, as everyone knows, you sit with
the back of your head towards your direction of movement, the beauty could
not only hear, but she could see the hooligan pointing at me with his foot.
I tried to make out that all this had nothing to do with me and started to
look to the side with a smile on my face. But there wasn't a single other
boat around. And at this point the hooligan shouted again: -- Now what do
you think you're looking at? We're talking to you, aren't we? Hey, you, the
sucker in the cap!
I set about rowing with might and main, but the oars kept jumping out
of the rowlocks and the boat only moved slowly. Finally, after an enormous
effort, I caught up with the beauty and we got acquainted. She was called
Yekaterina Pavlovna. We took back her boat and Yekaterina Pavlovna moved
over to mine. She turned out to be a very witty conversationalist. I had
decided to dazzle my friends with wit, and so I got out your letter and made
a start on reading it: 'Hello, there, Daniil Ivanovich, we are completely
lost without you. Lyonya has bought himself some new ...' and so on.
Yekaterina Pavlovna suggested that, if we pulled in to the bank, then I
might see something. And I did, I saw Yekaterina Pavlovna making off, and
out of the bushes there crept a filthy urchin, saying: -- Mister, give us a
ride in yer boat.
This evening the letter came to grief. It happened like this: I was
standing on the balcony, reading your letter and eating semolina. At that
moment Auntie called me into the living room to help her wind the clock. I
covered the semolina with the letter and went into the room. When I came
back the letter had absorbed all the semolina into itself and I ate it.
The weather in Tsarskoye Selo is well set: variable cloud, south-west
wind, possible rain.
This morning an organ-grinder came into our garden and played a trashy
waltz, filched a hammock and ran away.
I read a very interesting book about how one young man fell in love
with a certain young person, and this young person loved another young man,
and this young man loved another young person and this young person loved
another young man yet again, who loved not her but another young person.
And suddenly this young person stumbles down a trapdoor and fractures
her spine. But when she has completely recovered from that, she suddenly
catches her death of cold and dies. Then the young man who loves her does
himself in with a revolver shot. Then the young person who loves this young
man throws herself under a train. Then the young man who loves this young
person climbs up a tram pylon from grief and touches the live wire, dying
from an electric shock. Then the young person who loves this young man
stuffs herself with ground glass and dies from perforation of the
intestines. Then the young man who loves this young person runs away to
America and takes to the drink to such a degree that he sells his last suit
and, for the lack of a suit, he is obliged to lie in hospital, where he
suffers from bedsores, and from these bedsores he dies.
In a few days I shall be in town. I definitely want to see you. Give my
best wishes to Valentina Yefimovna and Yakov Semyonovich.
Dear Nikandr Andreyevich,
I have received your letter and straight away I realised that it was
from you. At first I thought that it might by chance not be from you, but as
soon as I unsealed it I immediately realised it was from you, though I had
been on the point of thinking that it was not from you. I am glad that you,
long ago now, got married, because when a person gets married to the one he
wanted to marry, then this means he has got what he wanted. I am very glad
you got married, because when a person marries the one he wanted to marry,
that means he has got what he wanted. Yesterday I received your letter and
immediately thought that this letter was from you, but then I thought that
it seemed not to be from you, but unsealed it and saw: it really is from
you. You did exactly the right thing, writing to me. First you didn't write,
and then you suddenly wrote, although before that, before that period when
you didn't write, you also used to write. Immediately as I received your
letter, I straight away decided that it was from you and, then, I was very
glad that you had already got married. For, if a person should feel like
getting married, then he really has to get married, come what may. Therefore
I am very glad that you finally got married to the very one you wanted to
marry. And you did exactly the right thing, writing to me. I was greatly
cheered up on seeing your letter and I even immediately thought it was from
you. It's true, while I was unsealing it, the thought did flash across my
mind that it was not from you, but then, all the same, I decided it was from
you. Thank you for writing. I am grateful to you for this and very glad for
you. Perhaps you can't guess why I am so glad for you, but I will tell you
at once that I am glad for you because you got married, and to the very one
you wanted to marry. And, you know, it is very good to marry the very one
you want to marry, because then you have got the very thing you wanted. It's
for that very reason that I am so glad for you. But also I am glad because
you wrote me a letter. I had even from some distance decided that the letter
was from you, but as I took it in my hands I then thought: but what if it's
not from you? But then I start to think: no, of course it's from you. I
unseal the letter myself and at the same time I think: from you or not from
you? From you or not from you? Well, as I unsealed it, then I could see:
it's from you. I was greatly cheered and decided to write you a letter as
well. There's a lot which has to be said, but literally there's no time. I
have written what I had time to write in this letter and the rest I shall
write another time, as now there really isn't time at all. It's a good
thing, at least, that you wrote me a letter. Now I know that you got married
a long time ago. I, from your previous letters too, knew that you had got
married and now I see again: it's absolutely true, you have got married. And
I'm very glad that you got married and wrote me a letter. I straight away,
as soon as I saw your letter, decided that you had got married again. Well,
I think it's a good thing that you have again got married and written me a
letter about it. Now write to me and tell me who your new wife is and how it
all came about. Say hello from me to your new wife.
From 'A Tract More or Less According to a Synopsis of Emerson'
...I don't know the right word to express that strength in you which so
delights me. I usually call it purity.
I have been thinking about how beautiful everything is at first! How
beautiful primary reality is! The sun and the grass are beautiful, grass and
stone, and water, a bird, a beetle, a fly, and a human being (a kitten and a
key, a comb). But if I were blind and deaf, had lost all my faculties, how
could I know all this beauty? everything gone and nothing for me at all. But
I suddenly acquire touch anti immediately almost the whole world appears
again. I invent hearing and the world improves significantly. I invent all
the other faculties and the world gets even bigger and better. The world
starts to exist as soon as I let it in to me. Never mind its state of
disorder, at least it exists! However, I started to bring some order into
the world. And that's when Art appeared. Only at this point did I grasp the
true difference between the sun and a comb but, at the same time, I realised
that they are one and the same.
Now my concern is to create the correct order. I am carried away by
this and only think of this. I speak about it, try to narrate it, describe
it, sketch it, dance it, construct it. I am the creator of a world and this
is the most important thing in me. How can I not think constantly about it!
In everything I do, I invest the consciousness of being creator of a world.
And I am not making simply some boot, but, first and foremost, I am creating
something new. It doesn't bother me that the boot should turn out to be
comfortable, durable and elegant. It's more important that it should contain
that same order pertaining in the world as a whole, so that world order
should not be the poorer, should not be soiled by contact with skin and
nails, so that, notwithstanding the form of the boot, it should preserve its
own form, should remain the same as it was, should remain pure.
It is that same purity which permeates all the arts. When I am writing
poetry, the most important thing seems to me not the idea, not the content,
and not the form, and not the misty conception of 'quality', but something
even more misty and incomprehensible to the rationalistic mind, but
comprehensible to me and, I hope, to you (...) -- it is the purity of order.
This purity is one and the same -- in the sun, in the grass, in a human
being and in poetry. True art is on a par with primary reality; it creates a
world and constitutes the world's primary reflection. It is indisputably
But, my God, what trivialities make up true art! The Divine Comedy is a
great piece of work, but <Pushkin's> lines 'Through the agitated mists the
moon makes its way' are no less great. For in both there is the same purity
and consequently an identical proximity to reality, that is to independent
existence. That means it is not simply words and thoughts printed on paper,
but a piece of work which is just as real as the cut-glass bubble for the
ink standing in front of me on the table. These verses seem to have become a
piece of work which could be taken off the paper and hurled at the window,
and the window would smash. That's what words can do!
But, on the other hand, how helpless and pitiful these same words can
be! I never read the newspapers. They are a fictitious world, not the
created one. Just pitiful, down-at-heel typographical print on rotten
Does a person need anything, apart from life and art? I don't think so:
nothing else is needed, as everything genuine is to be found in them.
I think that purity can be in everything, even in the way a person eats
Letter to K. V. Pugachova: an Extract
28 February, 1936
I convey my best wishes to Kirill on his birthday and similarly
congratulate his parents on successfully fulfilling the plan prescribed for
them by nature for the raising up to the age of two years of human
offspring, unable to walk, but therefore gradually beginning to destroy
everything around and finally, in attaining this junior pre-school age,
belabouring across the head with a voltmeter stolen from his father's
writing table his loving mother, who has failed to evade the highly
skillfully delivered assaults of her not as yet fully mature child, who is
planning already in his immature skull, having done away with his parents,
to direct all his most penetrating attentions towards his venerable
grandfather and by the same means demonstrate a mental development allotted
beyond his years, in honour of which, on the 28th of February, will gather a
couple of admirers of this indeed outstanding phenomenon, among whose
number, to my great chagrin, I shall not be able to be, finding myself at
the time in question under a certain pressure, being enraptured on the
shores of the Gulf of Finland by an ability, innate since childhood, of
grabbing a steel pen and, having dipped it in an ink-well, in short sharp
phrases expressing my profound and at times even in a certain way highly
Letter to his sister Ye. I. Yuvachova
Dear Aleksandr Ivanovich,
I have heard that you are saving money and have already saved
thirty-five thousand. What for? Why save money? Why not share what you have
with those who do not even have a totally spare pair of trousers? I mean,
what is money? I have studied this question. I possess photographs of the
banknotes in widest circulation: to the value of a rouble, three, four and
even five roubles. I have heard of banknotes of an intrinsic worth of up to
30 roubles at a time! But, as for saving them: what for? Well, I am not a
collector. I have always despised collectors who amass stamps, feathers,
buttons, onions and so on. They are stupid, dull superstitious people. I
know for example that what are called 'numismatists' -- that's those who
accumulate coins -- have the superstitious habit of putting them, have you
ever thought where? Not on the table, not in a box, but... on their books!
What do you think of that? Whereas money can be picked up, taken to a shop
and exchanged, well... let's say for soup (that's a kind of food), or for
grey-mullet sauce (that's also a kind of foodstuff).
No, Aleksandr Ivanovich, you are almost as couth a person as I, yet you
save money and don't change it into a range of other things. Forgive me,
dear Aleksandr Ivanovich, but that is not terribly clever! You've simply
gone a little stupid living out there in the provinces. There must be no one
to talk to, even. I'm sending you my picture so that you will be able at
least to see before you a clever, cultivated, intellectual, first-rate face.
Your friend Daniil Kharms
. . . And between them the following conversation takes place.
In the courtyard an old woman is standing and holding a clock in her
hands. I walk through, past the old woman, stop and ask her:
-- What time is it?
-- Have a look -- the old woman says to me.
I look and see that there are no hands on the clock.
-- There are no hands here -- I say.
The old woman looks at the clock face and tells me: -- It's now a
quarter to three.
-- Oh, so that's what it is. Thank you very much -- I say and go on.
The old woman shouts something after me but I walk on without looking
round. I go out on to the street and walk on the sunny side. The spring sun
is very pleasant. I walk on, screwing up my eyes and smoking my pipe. On the
corner of Sadovaya I happen to run into Sakerdon Mikhailovich. We say hello,
stop and talk for a long time. I get fed up with standing on the street and
I invite Sakerdon Mikhailovich into a cellar bar. We drink vodka, eat
hard-boiled eggs and sprats and then say goodbye, and I walk on alone.
At this point I remember that I had forgotten to turn off the electric
oven at home. This is very annoying. I turn round and walk home. The day had
started so well and this was the first misfortune. I ought not to have taken
to the street.
I get home, take off my jacket, take my watch out of my waistcoat
pocket and hang it on a nail; then I lock the door and lie down on the
couch. I shall recline and try to get to sleep.
The offensive shouting of urchins can be heard from the street. I lie
there, thinking up various means of execution for them. My favourite one is
to infect them all with tetanus so that they suddenly stop moving. Their
parents can drag them all home. They will lie in their beds unable even to
eat, because their mouths won't open. They will be fed artificially. After a
week the tetanus can pass off, but the children will be so feeble that they
will have to lie in their beds for a whole month. Then they will gradually
start to recover but I shall infect them with a second dose of tetanus and
they will all croak.
I lie on the couch with my eyes open and I can't get to sleep. I
remember the old woman with the clock whom I saw today in the yard and feel
pleased that there were no hands on her clock. Only the other day in the
second-hand shop I saw a revolting kitchen clock and its hands were made in
the form of a knife and fork.
Oh, my God! I still haven't turned off the electric oven! I jump up and
turn it off, and then I lie down again on the couch and try to get to sleep.
I close my eyes. I don't feel sleepy. The spring sun is shining in through
the window, straight on to me. I start to feel hot. I get up and sit down in
the armchair by the window.
Now I feel sleepy but I am not going to sleep. I get hold of a piece of
paper and a pen and I am going to write. I feel within me a terrible power.
I thought it all over as long ago as yesterday. It will be the story about a
miracle worker who is living in our time and who doesn't work any miracles.
He knows that he is a miracle worker and that he can perform any miracle,
but he doesn't do so. He is thrown out of his flat and he knows that he only
has to wave a finger and the flat will remain his, but he doesn't do this;
he submissively moves out of the flat and lives out of town in a shed. He is
capable of turning this shed into a fine brick house, but he doesn't do
this; he carries on living in the shed and eventually dies, without having
done a single miracle in the whole of his life.
I just sit and rub my hands with glee. Sakerdon Mikhailovich will burst
with envy. He thinks that I am beyond writing anything of genius. Now then,
now then, to work! Away with any kind of sleep and laziness! I shall write
for eighteen hours straight off!
I am shaking all over with impatience. I am not able to think out what
has to be done: I needed to take a pen and a piece of paper, but I grabbed
various objects, not at all those that I needed. I ran about the room: from
the window to the table, from the table to the oven, from the oven again to
the table, then to the divan and again to the window. I was gasping from the
flame which was ablaze in my breast. It's only five o'clock now. The whole
day is ahead, and the evening, and all night is . . .
I stand in the middle of the room. Whatever am I thinking of? Why, it's
already twenty past five. I must write. I move the table towards the window
and sit down at it. A sheet of squared paper is in front of me, in my hand
is a pen.
My heart is still beating too fast and my hand is shaking. I wait, so
as to calm down a little. I put down my pen and fill my pipe. The sun is
shining right in my eyes; I squint and light up my pipe.
And now a crow flies past the window. I look out of the window on to
the street and see a man with an artificial leg walking along the pavement.
He is knocking loudly with his leg and his stick.
-- So -- I say to myself, continuing to look out of the window.
The sun is hiding behind a chimney of the building opposite. The shadow
of the chimney runs along the roof, flies across the street and falls on my
face. I should take advantage or this shadow and write a few words about the
miracle worker. I grab the pen and write: 'The miracle worker was on the
Nothing more can I write. I sit on until I start feeling hungry. Then I
get up and go over to the cupboard where I keep my provisions; I rummage
there but find nothing. A lump of sugar and nothing more. Someone is
knocking at the door.
-- Who's there?
No one answers me. I open the door and see before me the old woman who
in the morning had been standing in the yard with the clock. I am very
surprised and cannot say anything.
-- So, here I am -- says the old woman and comes into my room.
I stand by the door and don't know what to do: should I chase the old
woman out or, on the contrary, suggest that she sit down? But the old woman
goes of her own accord over to my armchair beside the window and sits down
-- Close the door and lock it -- the old woman tells me.
I close and lock the door.
-- Kneel -- says the old woman.
And I get down on my knees.
But at this point I begin to realise the full absurdity of my position.
Why am I kneeling in front of some old woman? And, indeed, why is this old
woman in my room and sitting in my favourite armchair? Why hadn't I chased
this old woman out?
-- Now, listen here -- I say -- what right have you to give the orders
in my room, and, what's more, boss me about? I have no wish at all to be
-- And you don't have to -- says the old woman. -- Now you must lie
down on your stomach and bury your face in the floor.
I carried out her bidding straight away . . .
I see before me accurately traced squares. Discomfort in my shoulder
and in my right hip forces me to change position. I had been lying face down
and now, with great difficulty, I get up on to my knees. All my limbs have
gone numb and will scarcely bend. I look round and see myself in my own
room, kneeling in the middle of the floor. My consciousness and memory are
slowly returning to me. I look round the room once more and see that it
looks as though someone is sitting in the armchair by the window. It's not
very light in the room, because it must be the white nights now. I peer
attentively. Good Lord! Is it really that old woman, still sitting in my
armchair? I crane my neck round and have a look. Yes, of course, it's the
old woman sitting there and her head's drooped on to her chest. She must
have fallen asleep.
I pick myself up and hobble over towards her. The old woman's head is
drooping down on to her chest; her arms are hanging down the sides of the
armchair. I feel like grabbing hold of this old woman and shoving her out of
-- Listen -- I say -- you are in my room. I need to work. I am asking
you to leave.
The old woman doesn't budge. I bend over and look the old woman in the
face. Her mouth is half open and from her mouth protrudes a displaced set of
dentures. And suddenly it all becomes clear to me: the old woman has died.
A terrible feeling of annoyance comes over me. What did she die in my
room for? I can't stand dead people. And now, having to mess about with this
carrion, having to go and talk to the caretaker and the house manager, to
explain to them why this old woman was found in my place. I looked at the
old woman with hatred. But perhaps she wasn't dead, after all? I feel her
forehead. Her forehead is cold. Her hand also. Now what am I supposed to do?
I light up my pipe and sit down on the couch. A mindless fury is rising
up in me.
-- What a swine! -- I say out loud.
The dead old woman is sitting in my armchair, like a sack. Her teeth
are sticking out of her mouth. She looks like a dead horse.
-- What a revolting spectacle -- I say, but I can't cover the old woman
with a newspaper, because anything might go on under the newspaper.
Movement could be heard through the wall: it's my neighbour getting up,
the engine driver. I've quite enough on my plate without him getting wind
that I've got a dead old woman in my room! I listen closely to my
neighbour's footsteps. Why is he so slow? It's half-past five already! It's
high time he went off. My God! He's making a cup of tea! I can hear the
noise of the primus through the wall. Oh, I wish that blasted engine driver
would hurry up and go!
I pull my legs up on to the couch and lie there. Eight minutes go by,
but my neighbour's tea is still not ready and the primus is making a noise.
I close my eyes and doze.
I dream that my neighbour has gone out and I, together with him, go out
on to the staircase and I slam the door behind me on its spring lock. I
haven't got the key and I can't get back into the flat. I shall have to
knock and wake up the rest of the tenants and that is not a good thing at
all. I am standing on the landing thinking what to do and suddenly I see
that I have no hands. I incline my head, so as to get a better look to see
whether I have any hands, and I see that on one side, instead of a hand, a
knife is sticking out and, on the other side, a fork.
-- So -- I am saying to Sakerdon Mikhailovich, who for some reason is
sitting there on a folding chair -- So, do you see -- I say to him -- the
sort of hands I have?
But Sakerdon Mikhailovich sits there in silence and I can see that this
is not the real Sakerdon Mikhailovich, but his clay semblance.
At this point I wake up and immediately realise that I am lying in my
room on the couch and that by the window, in the armchair, sits a dead old
I quickly turn my head in her direction. The old woman is not in the
armchair. I gaze at the empty armchair and I am filled with a wild joy. So,
that means all this was a dream. Except, where did it start? Did an old
woman come into my room yesterday? Perhaps that was a dream as well? I came
back yesterday because I had forgotten to turn off the electric oven. But
perhaps that was a dream as well? In any case, it's marvelous that I don't
have a dead old woman in my room and that means I won't have to go to the
house manager and bother about the corpse!
But still, how long had I been asleep? I looked at my watch: half-past
nine; it must be morning.
Good Lord! The things that can happen in dreams!
I lowered my legs from the couch, intending to stand up, and suddenly
caught sight of the dead old woman, lying on the floor behind the table,
beside the armchair. She was lying face up and her dentures, which had
jumped out of her mouth, had one tooth digging into the old woman's nostril.
Her arms were tucked under her torso and were not visible and from under her
disordered skirt protruded bony legs in white, dirty woollen stockings.
-- What a swine! -- I shouted and, running over to the old woman,
kicked her on the chin.
The set of dentures flew off into the corner. I wanted to kick the old
woman again, but was afraid that marks would remain on her body and that
subsequently it might be decided that it was I who had killed her.
I moved away from the old woman, sat down on the couch and lit my pipe.
Thus twenty minutes went by. Now it had become clear to me that, come what
may, the matter would be put in the hands of a criminal investigation and
that in the bungling which would follow I would be accused of murder. The
situation was turning out to be serious, and then there was that kick as
I went over to the old woman again, leaned over and started to examine
her face. There was a small dark bruise on her chin. No, nothing much could
be made of that. What of it? Perhaps the old woman had bumped into something
when she was still alive? I calm down a little and begin pacing the room,
smoking my pipe and ruminating over my situation.
I pace up and down the room and start feeling a greater and greater
hunger. I even start shaking from hunger. Once more I rummage in the
cupboard where my provisions are kept, but I find nothing, except a lump of
I pull out my wallet and count my money. Eleven roubles. That means I
can buy myself some ham sausage and bread and still have enough for tobacco.
I adjust my tie, which had got disarranged in the night, pick up my
watch, put on my jacket, go out into the corridor, painstakingly lock the
door of my room, put the key in my pocket and go out on to the street.
Before anything else I have to eat something; then my thoughts will be
clearer and then I'll do something about this carrion. On the way to the
shop, I keep on thinking: shouldn't I go and see Sakerdon Mikhailovich and
tell him all about it and perhaps together we could soon think out what to
do. But I turn this idea down on the spot, because there are some things
which one has to do alone, without witnesses.
There was no ham sausage in the shop and I bought myself half a kilo of
saveloys. There was no tobacco, either. From the shop I went to the bakery.
There were a lot of people in the bakery and there was a long queue
waiting at the cash desk. I immediately frowned but still joined the queue.
The queue moved very slowly and then stopped moving altogether, because some
sort of a row had broken out at the cash desk.
I pretended not to notice anything and stared at the back of a nice
young lady who was standing in the queue in front of me. The young lady was
obviously very inquisitive: she was craning her neck first to the right and
then to the left and she kept standing on tiptoe, so as to get a better view
of what was happening at the cash desk. Eventually she turned round to me
and said: -- You don't know what's going on there, do you?
-- I'm afraid I don't -- I answered as drily as possible.
The young lady twisted herself from side to side and finally again
-- You wouldn't like to go up there and find out what's happening,
-- I'm afraid it doesn't concern me in the slightest -- I said, even
-- What do you mean, it doesn't concern you? -- exclaimed the young
lady -- you are being held up in the queue yourself because of it, aren't
I made no reply and merely bowed slightly. The young lady looked at me
with great attention.
-- Of course, it's not a man's job to queue for bread -- she said. --
I'm sorry for you, having to stand here. You must be a bachelor?
-- Yes, I am a bachelor -- I replied, somewhat taken aback, but
automatically continuing to answer somewhat drily, with a slight bow at the
The young lady again looked me up and down and suddenly, touching me on
the sleeve, she said: -- Let me get you what you need and you can wait for
This threw me completely.
-- Thank you -- I said. -- It's extremely kind of you but, really, I
could do it myself.
-- No, no -- said the young lady -- you go outside. What were you
intending to buy?
-- Well, then -- I said -- I was intending to buy half a kilo of black
bread, only of the round sort, the cheapest one. I prefer it.
-- Right, well that's fine -- said the young lady. -- So, go on, then.
I'll buy it and we can settle up afterwards.
And she even gave me a slight shove under the elbow.
I went out of the bakery and stood right by the door. The spring sun is
shining right in my eyes. I light up my pipe. What a delightful young lady!
It's so rare these days. I stand there, my eyes screwed up from the sun,
smoking my pipe and thinking about the delightful young lady. She has bright
brown eyes, too. She's simply irresistibly pretty!
-- Do you smoke a pipe? -- I hear a voice beside me. The delightful
young lady hands me the bread.
-- Oh, I'm forever grateful to you -- I say, taking the bread.
-- And you smoke a pipe! I really like that -- says the delightful
And between us the following conversation takes place.
She: So, you buy bread yourself?
I: Not only bread; I buy everything for myself.
She: And where do you have lunch?
I: Usually I cook my own lunch. But sometimes I eat in the bar.
She: Do you like beer, then?
I: No, I prefer vodka.
She: I like vodka, too.
I: You like vodka? That's wonderful! I'd like to have a drink with you
She: And I'd like to drink vodka with you, too.
I: Forgive me, but may I ask you something?
She: (blushing furiously) of course, just ask.
I: All right then, I will. Do you believe in God?
She: (surprised) In God? Yes, of course.
I: And what would you say to us buying some vodka now and going to my
place? I live very near here.
She: (perkily) Well, why not, it's fine by me!
I: Then let's go.
We go into a shop and I buy half a litre of vodka. I have no more money
left, except a bit of change. We talk about various things all the time and
suddenly I remember that in my room on the floor there is a dead old woman.
I look round at my new acquaintance: she's standing by the counter and
looking at jars of jam. I gingerly make off towards the door and slide out
of the shop. It just happens that a tram is stopping opposite the shop. I
jump on the tram, without even looking to see what number it is. I get off
at Mikhailovskaya Street and walk to Sakerdon Mikhailovich's. I am carrying
a bottle of vodka, saveloys and bread.
Sakerdon Mikhailovich opened the door to me himself. He was wearing his
dressing-gown, with nothing on underneath, his Russian boots with the tops
cut off and his fur hat with the earflaps, but the earflaps were turned up
and tied in a bow on top.
-- Jolly good -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich on seeing that it was me.
-- I'm not dragging you away from your work? -- I asked.
-- No, no -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- I wasn't doing anything, I
was just sitting on the floor.
-- Well, you see -- I said to Sakerdon Mikhailovich -- I've popped
round to you with vodka and a bite to eat. If you've no objection, let's
have a drink.
-- Fine -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- Come in.
We sent through to his room. I opened the bottle of vodka and Sakerdon
Mikhailovich put two glasses and a plate of boiled meat on the table.
-- I've got some saveloys here -- I said. -- So, how shall we eat them:
raw, or shall we boil them?
-- We'll put them on to boil -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich and while
they're cooking we'll drink vodka with the boiled meat. It's from a stew,
it's first-class boiled meat!
Sakerdon Mikhailovich put a saucepan on to heat, on his kerosene stove,
and we sat down to the vodka.
-- Drinking vodka's good for you -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich, filling
the glasses. -- Mechnikov wrote that vodka's better than bread, and bread is
only straw which rots in our bellies.
-- Your health! -- said I, clinking glasses with Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
We drank, taking the cold meat as a snack.
-- It's good -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
But at that moment something in the room gave out a sharp crack.
-- What's that? -- I asked.
We sat in silence and listened. Suddenly there was another crack.
Sakerdon Mikhailovich jumped up from his chair and, running up to the
window, tore down the curtain.
-- What are you doing? -- I exclaimed.
But Sakerdon Mikhailovich didn't answer me; he rushed over to the
kerosene stove, grabbed hold or the saucepan with the curtain and placed it
on the floor.
-- Devil take it! -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- I forgot to put
water in the saucepan and the saucepan's an enamel one, and now the enamel's
-- Oh, I see -- I said, nodding.
We sat down again at the table.
-- Oh, to the devil with it -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich -- we'll eat
the saveloys raw.
-- I'm starving -- I said.
-- Help yourself -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich, pushing the saveloys
over to me.
-- The last time I ate was yesterday, in the cellar bar with you, and
since then I haven't eaten a thing -- I said.
-- Yeh, yeh -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- I was writing all the time -- said I.
-- Bloody hell! -- exclaimed Sakerdon Mikhailovich in an exaggerated
tone. -- It's a great thing to see a genius before one.
-- I should think so! -- said I.
-- Did you get much done? -- asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- Yes -- said I. -- I got through a mass of paper.
-- To the genius of our day -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich, lifting his
We drank. Sakerdon Mikhailovich ate boiled meat and I . . . the
saveloys. Having eaten four saveloys, I lit my pipe and said:
-- You know, I came to see you, to escape from persecution.
-- Who was persecuting you? -- asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- A lady -- I said.
But as Sakerdon Mikhailovich didn't ask me anything and only poured
vodka into his glass in silence, I went on: -- I met her in the bakery and
immediately fell in love.
-- Is she attractive? -- asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- Yes -- said I -- just my type.
We drank and I continued: -- She agreed to go to my place and drink
vodka. We went into a shop, but I had to make a run for it out of the shop,
on the quiet.
-- Didn't you have enough money? -- asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- No, I had just enough money -- I said -- but I remembered that I
couldn't let her into my room.
-- What, do you mean you had another woman in your room? -- asked
-- Yes, if you like, there's another woman in my room -- I said, with a
smile. -- Now I can't let anyone into my room.
-- Get married. Then you can invite me to the reception -- said
-- No -- I said, snorting with laughter. -- I'm not going to get
married to this woman.
-- Well then, marry that one from the bakery -- said Sakerdon
-- Why are you so keen to marry me off? -- said I.
-- So, what then? -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich, filling the glasses.
-- Here's to your conquests!
We drank. Clearly, the vodka was starting to have its effect on us.
Sakerdon Mikhailovich look off his fur hat with the earflaps and slung it on
to the bed. I got up and paced around the room, already experiencing a
certain amount of head-spinning.
-- How do you feel about the dead? -- I asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- Completely negatively -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- I'm afraid
-- Yes, I can't stand dead people either -- I said. -- Give me a dead
person and, assuming he's not a relative of mine, I would be bound to boot
-- You shouldn't kick corpses -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- I would give him a good booting, right in the chops -- said I. -- I
can't stand dead people or children.
-- Yes, children are vile -- agreed Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- But which do you think are worse: the dead or children? -- I asked.
-- Children are perhaps worse, they get in our way more often. The dead
at least don't burst into our lives -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- They do burst in! -- I shouted and immediately stopped speaking.
Sakerdon Mikhailovich looked at me attentively.
-- Do you want some more vodka? -- he asked.
-- No -- I said, but, recollecting myself, I added: -- No, thank you, I
don't want any more.
I came over and sat down again at the table. For a while we are silent.
-- I want to ask you -- I say finally. -- Do you believe in God?
A transverse wrinkle appears on Sakerdon Mikhailovich's brow and he
says: -- There is such a thing as bad form. It's bad form to ask someone to
lend you fifty roubles if you have noticed him just putting two hundred in
his pocket. It's his business to give you the money or to refuse; and the
most convenient and agreeable means of refusal is to lie, saying, that he
hasn't got the money. But you have seen that that person does have the money
and thereby you have deprived him of the possibility of simply and agreeably
refusing. You have deprived him of the right of choice and that is a dirty
trick. It's bad form and quite tactless and asking a person: 'Do you believe
in God?' -- that also is tactless and bad form.
-- Well -- said I -- I see nothing in common there.
-- Anal I am making no comparisons -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
-- Well, all right, then -- I said -- let's leave it. Just excuse me
for putting such an indecent and tactless question.
-- That's all right -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- I merely refused
to answer you.
-- I wouldn't have answered either -- said I -- except that it would've
been for a different reason.
-- And what would that be? -- asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich limply.
-- You see -- I said -- in my view there are no believers or
non-believers. There are only those who wish to believe and those who wish
not to believe.
-- So, those who wish not to believe already believe in something? --
said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- And those who wish to believe already, in
advance, don't believe in anything?
-- Perhaps that's the way it is -- I said. -- I don't know.
-- And in what do they believe or not believe? In God? -- asked
-- No -- I said -- in immortality.
-- Then why did you ask me whether I believe in God?
-- Simply because asking: 'Do you believe in immortality?' sounds
rather stupid -- I said to Sakerdon Mikhailovich and stood up.
-- What, are you going? -- Sakerdon Mikhailovich asked me.
-- Yes -- I said -- it's time I was going.
-- And what about the vodka? -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. -- There's
a glass each left, you know.
-- Well, let's drink it, then -- I said.
We drank down the vodka and finished off the remains of the boiled
-- And now I must go -- I said.
-- Goodbye -- said Sakerdon Mikhailovich, accompanying me across the
kitchen and out lo the stairway. -- Thanks for bringing the refreshments.
-- Thank you -- I said. -- Goodbye.
And I left.
Remaining on his own, Sakerdon Mikhailovich cleared the tables, shoved
the empty vodka bottle on top of the cupboard, put his fur cap with the
earflaps on again and sat down on the floor under the window. Sakerdon
Mikhailovich put his hands behind his back and they could not be seen. And
from his disordered dressing-gown protruded his bare, bony legs, shod in
Russian boots with the tops cut off.
I walked along Nevsky Prospect, weighed down by my own thoughts. I'll
now have to go to the house manager and tell him everything. And having
dealt with the old woman, I shall stand for entire days by the bakery, until
I encounter that delightful young lady. Indeed, I have remained in her debt
for the bread, to the tune of forty-eight kopecks. I have a fine pretext for
seeking her out. The vodka I had drunk was still continuing to have its
effect and it seemed as though everything was shaping up very nicely and
On Fontanka I went over to a stall and, on the strength of my remaining
change, I downed a big mug of kvass. The kvass was of poor quality and sour,
and I walked on with a revolting taste in my mouth.
On the corner of Liteinaya some drunk or other staggered up and pushed
me. It's a good thing I don't have a revolver: I would have killed him right
here on the spot.
I walked all the way home, no doubt with a face distorted with malice.
In any event, almost everyone I passed swung round to look at me.
I went into the house manager's office. At the table sat a short,
dirty, snub-nosed, one-eyed, tow-headed female and, looking into her make-up
mirror, she was daubing herself with lipstick.
-- And where's the house manager? -- I asked.
The girl remained silent, continuing to daub her lips.
-- Where's the house manager? -- I repeated in a sharp voice.
-- He'll be here tomorrow, not today -- replied the dirty, snub-nosed,
one-eyed and tow-haired female.
I went out on to the street. On the opposite side, an invalid was
walking along on an artificial leg and knocking loudly with his leg and his
stick. Six urchins were running behind the invalid, mimicking his gait.
I turned into my main entrance and began to go up the stairway. On the
first floor I stopped; a repulsive thought had entered my head: of course,
the old woman must have started to decompose. I had not shut the windows,
and they say that with an open window the dead decompose all the quicker.
What utter stupidity! And that devil of a house manager won't be there until
tomorrow! I stood in indecision for several minutes and then began to ascend
I stopped again beside the door to my flat. Perhaps I should go to the
bakery and wait there for the delightful young lady? I could try imploring
her to let me in to her place for two or three nights. But at this point I
recollect that she has already bought her bread today and so she won't be
coming to the bakery. And in any case nothing would have come of it.
I unlocked the door and went into the corridor. At the end of the
corridor a light was on and Mar'ia Vasil'evna, holding some rag or other in
her hands, was rubbing it over with another rag. Upon seeing me, Mar'ia
Vasil'evna cried: -- Shome auld man was ashking for ye!
-- What old man? -- I asked.
-- I donch know -- replied Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- When was that? -- I asked.
-- Donch know zhat, eizher -- said Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- Did you talk to the old man? -- I asked Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- I did -- replied Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- So, how come you don't know when it was? -- said I.
-- Choo hourzh ago -- said Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- And what did this old man look like? -- I asked.
-- Donch know zhat, eizher -- said Mar'ia Vasil'evna and went off to
I went over to my room.
-- Suppose -- I thought -- the old woman has disappeared. I shall go
into any room, and there's no old woman there. Oh my God! Do miracles really
I unlocked the door and started to open it slowly. Perhaps it only
seemed that way, but the sickly smell of decomposition in progress hit me in
the face. I looked in through the half-open door and, for a instant, froze
on the spot. The old woman was on all fours, crawling slowly over to meet
I slammed the door with a yelp, turned the key and leapt across to the
Mar'ia Vasil'evna appeared in the corridor.
-- Were ye calling me? -- she asked.
I was so shaken that I couldn't reply and just shook my head
negatively. Mar'ia Vasil'evna came a bit nearer.
-- Ye were talking to shomeone -- she said.
I again shook my head.
-- Crazhy madman -- said Mar'ia Vasil'evna and she again went off to
the kitchen, looking round at me several times on the way.
-- I can't just stand here. I can't just stand here -- I repeated to
myself. This phrase had formed somewhere within me. I kept reiterating it
until it reached my consciousness.
-- No, I can't just stand here -- I said to myself, but carried on
standing there, as though paralysed. Something horrific had happened, but
there was now the prospect of dealing with something that perhaps was even
more horrific than what had already occurred. My thoughts were spinning in a
vortex and I could see only the malicious eyes of the dead old woman, slowly
crawling towards me on all fours.
Burst into the room and smash the old woman's skull in! That's what
needs to be done! I even gave the place the once-over and was relieved to
see a croquet mallet which, for some unknown reason, had been standing in
the corner of the corridor for nearly a year. Grab the mallet, burst into
the room and bang . . . !
My shivering had not passed off. I was standing with my shoulders
arched from an inner cold. My thoughts were jumping and jumbled,
backtracking to their point of departure and again jumping ahead and taking
over new spheres, and I stood, lending an ear to my own thoughts, and
remaining as though to one side of them, as though not their controller.
-- The dead -- my own thoughts explained to me -- are a category to be
reckoned with. A lot of use calling them dead; rather, they should be called
the undead. They need to be watched and watched. Ask any mortuary watchman.
What do you think he is put there for? Only for one thing: to keep watch, so
that the dead don't crawl all over the place. There can even occur what are,
in a certain sense, amusing incidents. One deceased crawled out of the
mortuary while the attendant, on management's orders, was taking his bath,
crawled into the disinfection room and ate up a heap of bed linen. The
disinfectors dished out a damned good thrashing to the deceased in question
but, as for the ruined linen, they had to settle up for that out of their
own pockets. And another deceased crawled as far as the maternity ward and
so frightened the inmates that one child-bearer produced a premature foetus
on the spot, while the deceased pounced smartly on the fruits of the
miscarriage and began to devour it, champing away vigourously. And, when a
brave nurse struck the deceased on the back with a stool, he bit the said
nurse on the leg and she soon died from infection by corpse poisoning. Yes,
indeed, the dead are a category to be reckoned with, and with them you
certainly have to be on the quick side.
-- Stop! -- said I to my own thoughts. -- You are talking nonsense. The
dead are immobile.
-- All right, then -- my own thoughts said to me. -- Just you enter
your room and you'll soon find what you call an immobile dead person.
An unexpected stubbornness within me began speaking.
-- All right, I will! -- I replied resolutely to my own thoughts.
-- Just you try! -- my own thoughts said to me derisively.
This derision definitively enraged me. I grabbed the croquet mallet and
rushed towards the door.
-- Hold on a moment! -- my own thoughts yelled at me. But I had already
turned the key and unlocked the door.
The old woman was lying in the doorway, her face pressed against the
Croquet mallet raised, I stood at the ready. The old woman wasn't
My trembling passed off and my thoughts were flowing clearly and
logically. I was in control.
-- First of all, shut the door! -- I commanded myself.
I pulled the key from the outer side of the door and put it into the
inner side. I did this with my left hand, while in my right hand I held the
croquet mallet and the whole time did not take my eyes off the old woman. I
turned the key in the door and, carefully stepping over the old woman,
stepped out into the middle of the room.
-- Now you and I will settle things -- said I. A plan had occurred to
me, one to which murderers in detective stories and reports in the
newspapers usually resort; I simply wanted to hide the old woman in a
suitcase, carry her off out of town and dump her in a bog. I knew one such
I had a suitcase under the couch. I dragged it out and opened it. There
were a few assorted things in it: several books, an old felt hat and some
torn underwear. I unpacked all this on the couch.
At this moment the outside door slammed loudly and it seemed to me that
the old woman shuddered.
I immediately jumped up and grabbed the croquet mallet.
The old woman is lying there quietly. I am standing and listening
intently. It is the engine driver who has just come back; I can hear him
walking about in his room. That's him going along the corridor to the
kitchen. If Mar'ia Vasil'evna tells him all about my madness it will do no
good. It's a devilish nuisance. I'd better go along to the kitchen and
reassure them by my appearance.
I again strode over the old woman, placed the mallet right by the door,
so that on my return, without even entering the room, I could have the
mallet in my hands, and went out into the corridor. Voices came towards me
from the kitchen, but the words were not audible. I shut the door to my room
behind me and cautiously went off to the kitchen: I wanted to find out what
Mar'ia Vasil'evna and the engine driver were talking about. I passed down
the corridor quickly and slowed my steps near the kitchen. The engine driver
was speaking; evidently he was talking about something which had happened to
him at work.
I went in. The engine driver was standing with a towel in his hands and
speaking, while Mar'ia Vasil'evna was sitting on a stool listening. Upon
seeing me, the engine driver waved at me.
-- Hello there, hello there, Matvei Filippovich -- I said to him and
went on through to the bathroom. So far everything was safe enough. Mar'ia
Vasil'evna was used to my strange ways and may even have forgotten this
Suddenly it dawned upon me that I had not locked the door. What if the
old woman should crawl out of the room?
I rushed back but recollected myself in time and, so as not to alarm
the tenants, ambled through the kitchen at a leisurely step.
Mar'ia Vasil'evna was tapping her finger on the kitchen table and
saying to the engine driver:
-- Quaite raight. That's quaite raight! I wud have wustled too!
With my heart sinking, I went out into the corridor and immediately
breaking very nearly into a run I dashed down to my room. The old woman, as
before, was lying there quietly, her face pressed to the floor. The croquet
mallet was standing by the door in the same spot. I picked it up, went into
the room , and locked the door behind me with the key. Yes, there was
definitely a whiff of dead body in the room. I strode over the old woman,
went up to the window and sat down in the armchair. So long as I don't get
ill from this so far only weak, but still already unbearable, smell. I lit
up my pipe. I felt a touch of nausea and my stomach was aching a bit.
So, why am I just sitting here? I need to act quickly, before this old
woman rots completely. But, in any case, I need to be careful shoving her
into the suitcase because, while we're at it, she could take a nip at my
hand. And, as for dying from corpse poisoning -- no thank you!
-- Hey, thought -- I suddenly exclaimed. -- I'd like to see what you
would bite me with! Your teeth are over there, anyway!
I leaned over in the armchair and looked into the corner on the other
side of the window where, by my reckoning, the old woman's set of dentures
must be. But the false teeth were not there.
I thought for a bit: perhaps the dead old woman had been crawling about
my room looking for her teeth? Perhaps she had even found them and stuck
them back into her mouth?
I took the product mallet and poked around in the corner with it. No,
the dentures had gone. Then I pulled out of the cupboard a thick flannelette
sheet and went over to the old woman. The croquet mallet I held at the ready
in my right hand and in my left I held the flannelette sheet.
This dead old woman was arousing a squeamish feeling of fear. I raised
her head with the mallet: her mouth was open, the eyes rolled upwards and,
on the whole of her chin, where I had landed my kick, a big dark bruise was
spreading. I looked into the old woman's mouth. No, she had not found her
dentures. I released her head. The head dropped and knocked against the
Then I spread the flannelette sheet out on the floor and pulled it over
to the old woman herself. Then with my foot and the croquet mallet I turned
the old woman over by way of her left side on to her back. Now she was lying
on the sheet. The old woman's legs were bent at the knees and her fists
clasped to her shoulders. The old woman seemed to be lying on her back, like
a cat, ready to defend herself from a predatory eagle. Quickly, away with
I rolled the old woman up in the thick sheet and picked her up in my
arms. She turned out to be lighter than I had thought. I put her down into
the suitcase and tried to close it. I now expected all kinds of
difficulties, but the lid closed comparatively easily. I clicked down the
locks on the case and straightened up.
The suitcase is standing before me with a totally decorous air, as
though it contains clothes and books. I took hold of it by the handle and
tried to lift it. Yes, of course, it was heavy, but not excessively so. I
could certainly carry it to the tram.
I looked at my watch: twenty past five. That's fine. I sat down in the
armchair so as to have a breather and finish smoking my pipe.
Obviously the saveloys which I had eaten today had been a bit off,
since my stomach was aching more and more. But perhaps this was because I
had eaten them raw? But perhaps my stomach-ache was purely nervous.
I sit there, smoking. And minute after minute goes by.
The spring sun is shining in through the window and I screw up my eyes
against its rays. Now it is hiding behind a chimney of the building opposite
and the shadow of the chimney runs along the roof, flies across the street
and falls right on my face. I recall how yesterday at this same time I was
sitting writing my story. Here it is: the squared paper and on it the
inscription, in tiny handwriting: 'The miracle worker was on the tall side'.
I looked out of the window. An invalid was walking along the street on
an artificial leg, knocking loudly with his leg and with a stick. Two
workmen, and an old woman with them, were holding their sides, guffawing at
the invalid's ridiculous gait.
I got up. It was time! Time to be on my way! Time to take the old woman
off to the bog! I still needed to borrow some money from the engine driver.
I went out into the corridor and went up to his door.
-- Matvei Filippovich, are you in? -- I asked.
-- I'm in -- replied the engine driver.
-- Excuse me then, Matvei Filippovich, you don't happen to have plenty
of money on you, do you? I get paid the day after tomorrow. You couldn't
lend me thirty roubles, could you?
-- I could -- said the engine driver. And I could hear him jangling
keys as he unlocked some box or other. Then he opened the door and held out
a new, red thirty-rouble note. -- Thank you very much, Matvei Filippovich --
-- That's all right, that's all right -- said the engine driver.
I stuffed the money in my pocket and returned to my room. The suitcase
was calmly standing on the same spot.
-- Now then, on our way, without further ado -- I said to myself.
I took the suitcase and went out of the room.
Mar'ia Vasil'evna caught sight of me with the suitcase and shouted: --
Where are ye off to?
-- To see my aunt -- said I.
-- Will ye soon be back? -- asked Mar'ia Vasil'evna.
-- Yes -- I said. -- I just have to take some clothes over to my aunt.
I'll be back maybe even today.
I went out on to the street. I got safely to the tram, carrying the
suitcase first in my right hand, then in my left.
I got on to the tram from the front passenger space of the rear car and
began waving the conductress over, so that she should come and take the
money for my ticket and baggage. I didn't want to pass my single
thirty-rouble note down the whole car and couldn't bring myself to leave the
suitcase and myself walk through to the conductress. The conductress came
over to me on to the front platform and declared that she had no change. I
had to get off at the very first stop.
I stood there fuming as I was waiting for the next tram. I was
suffering from stomach-ache and a slight shiver in the legs.
And then suddenly I glimpsed my delightful young lady: she was crossing
the street and not looking in my direction.
I grabbed the suitcase and rushed after her. I didn't know her name and
couldn't call her. The suitcase was a serious hindrance: I was holding it in
front of me with both hands and pushing at it with my knees and stomach. The
delightful young lady was fairly fleet of foot and I felt that I had no hope
of catching her. I was soaked through with sweat and quite exhausted. The
delightful young lady turned into a side-street. When I got to the corner,
she was nowhere to be seen.
-- That blasted old woman! -- I spat, throwing the suitcase down. The
sleeves of my jacket were soaked through with sweat and they stuck to my
arms. I sat clown on the suitcase and, pulling out my handkerchief, I wiped
my neck and face with it. Two urchins stopped in front of me and began
looking at me. I put on a calm face and looked attentively at the nearest
gateway, as though waiting for someone. The urchins were whispering and
making rude gestures towards me. A wild fury smothered me. Oh, may they be
infected with tetanus!
And so, because of these obnoxious urchins, I stand up, lift the
suitcase, take it over to the gateway and peer into it. I affect a surprised
face, get out my watch and shrug my shoulders. The urchins are observing me
from algal. I once more shrug my shoulders and peer into the gateway.
-- That's strange -- I say aloud; I take the suitcase and drag it to
the tram stop.
I arrived at the station at five to seven. I take a return ticket to
Lis'ii Nos and get on to the train.
In the carriage, apart from me, there are two others: one evidently is
a workman; he is tired and is asleep, his cap pulled over his eyes. The
other is quite a young fellow, dressed like a village dandy: under his
jacket he is wearing a pink Russian shirt and from underneath his cap
protrudes a curly quiff. He is smoking a Russian cigarette, stuck into a
bright green plastic holder.
I place the suitcase between the seats and sit down. I have such spasms
in my stomach that I clench my fists, so as not to groan out loud from the
Two militiamen are leading some citizen or other along the platform
under arrest. He is walking with his hands behind his back and his head
The train moves off. I look at my watch: ten past seven.
Oh, with what pleasure will I dump this old woman in the bog! It's a
pity only that I didn't bring a stick with me, as the old woman is bound to
need a few shoves.
The dandy in the pink shirt keeps looking at me impudently. I turn my
back on him and look out of the window.
Horrific seizures are raging in my belly; then I have to grit my teeth,
clench my fists and strain my legs.
We go through Lanskaya and Novaya Derevnya. Here there's a glitter from
the golden top of the Buddhist pagoda and over there a glimpse of the sea.
But at this point I jump up and, forgetting everything around me, run
off to the toilet with short steps. My consciousness is being buffeted and
twisted by a reckless wave . . .
The train slackens speed. We are arriving at Lakhta. I sit there,
afraid to move, lest I get thrown out of the toilet while at the station.
-- If only it would hurry up and get moving! Hurry up and get moving!
The train moves off and I close my eyes in ecstasy. Oh, these minutes
are just as sweet as any moments of love! All my powers are straining, but I
know that this will be followed by an awful collapse.
The train is stopping again. It's Ol'gino. That means the same torture
But now it's a matter of phantom urges. A cold sweat comes out on my
brow and a slight coldness flutters around my heart. I raise myself up and
for a certain time stand with my head pressed to the wall. The train goes on
and the swaying of the carriage feels quite pleasant to me.
I gather all my strength and stagger out from the toilet.
There's no one in the carriage. The worker and the dandy in the pink
shirt obviously got out at Lakhta, or at Ol'gino. I walk slowly towards my
And suddenly I stop in my tracks and peer dully in front of me. There,
where I had left it, there is no suitcase. I must have mistaken the window.
I jump over to the next window. No suitcase. I jump backwards and forwards,
run up and down the carriage on both sides, look under the seats, but the
suitcase is nowhere to be found.
Indeed, is there any reason to doubt it? Of course, while I was in the
toilet the suitcase was stolen. That could even have been predicted!
I am sitting on the seat goggle-eyed and for some reason I remember the
cracking sound of the enamel coming off the overheated saucepan at Sakerdon
-- So what's the outcome? -- I ask myself. -- Now who will believe that
I didn't kill the old woman? They'll catch me this very day, either right
here or in the city at the station, like that citizen who was walking along
with his head drooping.
I go out on to the outside space at the end of the carriage. The train
is coming in to Lis'ii Nos. The white posts which mark off the track are
flashing past. The train is stopping. The steps down from my carriage do not
reach the ground. I jump down and walk over to the station office. There is
still half an hour before the train back to town.
I walk over towards a little wood. There are juniper bushes there. No
one will see me behind them. I make for them.
A big, green caterpillar is crawling over the ground. I drop down on my
knees and touch it with my finger. Powerful and sinewy, it wriggles around a
few times from one side to the other.
I look round. No one can see me. A slight shiver runs down my back. I
incline my head and quietly say:
-- In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, now
and for ever. Amen.
At this juncture I temporarily conclude my manuscript, considering that
it is already quite long drawn out enough as it is.
(End of May and first half of June, 1939)
Letter to Aleksandr Vvedensky
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