Petersburg And Moreover the Face Glistened


‘Suddenly’ is familiar to you. Then why, like an ostrich, do you hide your head in your feathers at the approach of a fateful and inexorable ‘suddenly’? Start talking to you about an alien ‘suddenly’, and you will probably say:

‘Dear sir, excuse me: you must be an out-and-out decadent.’

And you will probably expose me as a decadent.

You are even now before me as an ostrich; but in vain do you hide – you know me perfectly well: you also understand the inexorable ‘suddenly’.

Then listen …

Your ‘suddenly’ steals up behind your back, indeed sometimes it precedes your appearance in the room; in the first case you are made horribly uneasy: in your back an unpleasant sensation develops, as though a gang of invisible beings had begun to throng into your back, as through an open door; you turn round and ask the hostess:

‘Madam, will you permit me to close the door; I have a peculiar nervous sensation: I cannot abide sitting with my back to an open door.’

You laugh, she laughs.

But sometimes upon entering the drawing-room you will be greeted by a general:

‘But we were just talking about you …’

And you reply:

‘I expect heart gave the tidings to heart.’

They all laugh. You also laugh: as though here there were no ‘suddenly’.

But sometimes the alien ‘suddenly’ will look at you from behind the shoulders of your interlocutor, wishing to get your own ‘suddenly’ by scent. Between you and your interlocutor there will take place something that suddenly makes your eyes flutter, while your interlocutor will become drier. Afterwards there will be something he will not forgive you all his life.

Your ‘suddenly’ is nourished by your cerebral play; the vileness of your thoughts it devours gladly, like a dog; it swells up, you melt like a candle; if your thoughts are vile and a trembling takes possession of you, then ‘suddenly’, having gorged itself with all forms of vileness, like a fattened but invisible dog, it will everywhere begin to precede you, provoking in a casual observer the impression that you are screened from view by a black cloud invisible to the gaze: this is the shaggy ‘suddenly’, your faithful domovoi (I knew an unfortunate fellow whose black cloud was very nearly visible to the gaze: he was a literary man …)

We left the stranger in the little restaurant. Suddenly the stranger turned round impetuously; it seemed to him that a certain nasty slime, penetrating under his collar, had seeped along his backbone. But when he turned round, there was no one behind his back: gloomily, it seemed, gaped the door of the restaurant entrance; and from there, from the door, thronged the invisible.

At this point he pondered: up the staircase was coming, of course, the person he had been waiting for; in a moment or two he would come in; but he did not come in; in the doorway there was no one.

And when my stranger turned away from the door, through the doorway immediately walked the unpleasant fat man; and, as he went up to the stranger, he made a floorboard creak; the yellowish face, shaven, very slightly inclined to one side, floated smoothly in its own double chin; and moreover the face glistened.

Here my stranger turned round and started: the person was cordially waving a semi-sealskin hat with earflaps at him:

‘Aleksandr Ivanovich …’


‘Yes, it’s me …’

‘Lippanchenko, you are making me wait.’

The person’s shirt collar was tied with a necktie – satin-red, loud, and fastened with a large paste jewel, a dark yellow striped suit enveloped the person; while on his yellow shoes gleamed brilliant polish.

Taking a seat at the stranger’s table, the person exclaimed contentedly:

‘A pot of coffee! … And – listen, some cognac: my bottle’s there, registered under my name …’

And around them was heard:

‘You – did you drink with me?’

‘I did.’

‘Did you eat? …’

‘I ate …’

‘Well, with your permission, let me tell you that you’re a pig …’

‘Be more careful,’ cried my stranger: the unpleasant fat man, called Lippanchenko by the stranger, was just about to put his dark yellow elbow on a sheet of newspaper: the sheet of newspaper covered the little bundle.

‘What?’ Here Lippanchenko, lifting the sheet of newspaper, caught sight of the small bundle: and Lippanchenko’s lips trembled.

‘Is that … that … it?’

‘Yes: that’s it.’

Lippanchenko’s lips continued to tremble: Lippanchenko’s lips recalled little pieces of sliced-up salmon, – not yellow-red, but buttery and yellow (the kind of salmon you have probably eaten with bliny in a poor household).

‘How careless you are, Aleksandr Ivanovich, may I observe to you.’ Lippanchenko stretched out his coarse fingers towards the little bundle; and they shone, the fake stones of the rings on his swollen fingers with their bitten nails (the nails actually showed dark traces of a brown dye that corresponded to the colour of his hair; an attentive observer could draw the conclusion: the person dyed his hair).

‘I mean, one movement (just put your elbow on it), and there might be a … catastrophe …’

And with especial caution the person moved the small bundle to a chair.

‘Well, yes, with both of us there would be …’ the stranger joked unpleasantly. ‘We would both be …’

He was evidently enjoying the confusion of the person whom – let us say for our part – he hated.

‘I’m concerned, of course, not for myself, but for …’

‘Of course, of course you’re not concerned for yourself, but for …’ the stranger agreed with the person.

While around them was heard:

‘Don’t you call me a pig …’

‘But I don’t mean it like that.’

‘Yes you do: you’re annoyed for having paid … So what if you paid; you paid that time, I’ll pay today …’

‘All right, my friend, I’ll smother you with kisses for this good deed of yours …’

‘Don’t be angry about the “pig”: but I’ll eat and eat …’

‘All right, go on and eat, eat: it’s more proper that way.’

‘Here now, Aleksandr Ivanovich, sir, here now, my dear chap, take this little bundle’ – Lippanchenko looked sideways – ‘to Nikolai Apollonovich, immediately.’

‘To Ableukhov?’

‘Yes: to him – for safe keeping.’

‘But let me look after it: the little bundle can reside at my place …’

‘Inconvenient: you may be arrested; whereas there it will be in safe hands. One way or the other, the house of Senator Ableukhov … By the way: have you heard about the old fellow’s latest crucial pronouncement? …’

Here, leaning over, the fat man began to whisper something into my stranger’s ear:

‘Shoo-shoo-shoo …’


‘Shoo …’

‘To Ableukhov? …’

‘Shoo-shoo-shoo …’

‘With Ableukhov? …’

‘No, not with the senator, but with the senator’s son: if you’re at his place, then do me a favour and give him along with the little bundle – this little letter: here it is …’

Straight to the stranger’s face did Lippanchenko’s narrow-browed head lean; in their sockets the gnawing little eyes hid searchingly; his lips quivered imperceptibly and sucked the air. The stranger with the small black moustache listened closely to the fat gentleman’s whispering, attentively trying to make out the contents of the whisper that was being drowned by the voices in the restaurant; the voices in the restaurant covered Lippanchenko’s whisper; something was imperceptibly rustling from the repulsive lips (like the rustle of many hundreds of arthropodal ants’ legs above a dug-up anthill) and it seemed as if that whisper had terrible contents, as if what was being whispered about here was worlds and planetary systems; but one had only to listen closely to the whispering in order to realize that the terrible contents of the whispering were actually humdrum contents:

‘Give him the letter …’

‘Oh, is Nikolai Apollonovich in special liaison, then?’

The person screwed up his small eyes and gave a click of his small tongue.

‘Why, I thought all liaison with him was through me …’

‘Well, you can see that it isn’t …’

Around them was heard:

‘Eat, eat, friend …’

‘Get me some beef jelly.’

‘In food is truth …’

‘What is truth?’40

‘Truth is tooth …’

‘I know.’

‘If you know, that’s fine: move up a plate and eat …’

Lippanchenko’s dark yellow suit reminded the stranger of the dark yellow colour of the wallpaper of his abode on Vasily Island – a colour that was connected with insomnia and white spring nights and September sombre ones; and, so it must be, that cruel insomnia had suddenly evoked in his memory a certain fateful face with narrow little Mongolian eyes; that face had looked repeatedly at him from a piece of his yellow wallpaper. Examining this place by day, the stranger had only been able to make out a damp spot, over which a woodlouse was crawling. In order to distract himself from memories of the hallucination that had tormented him, my stranger lit a cigarette, to his own surprise, becoming garrulous:

‘Listen to the noise …’

‘Yes, they’re making a fair old noise.’

‘The sound of the noise is an i, but you hear an y …’

Lippanchenko, torpid, was immersed in some thought.

‘In the sound y one hears something stupid and slimy … Or am I mistaken?’

‘No, no: not in the slightest,’ not listening, Lippanchenko muttered and for a moment tore himself away from the computations of his thought …

‘All words with an y in them are trivial to the point of ugliness: i is not like that; i-i-i – a blue firmament, a thought, a crystal; the sound i-i-i evokes in me the notion of an eagle’s curved beak; while words with y in them are trivial; for example: the word ryba (fish); listen: r-y-y-y-ba, that is, something with cold blood … And again my-y-y-lo (soap): something slimy; glyby (clods) – something formless: tyl (rear) – the place of debauches …’

My stranger broke off his discourse: Lippanchenko sat before him like a formless glyba: and the dym (smoke) from his cigarette slimily soaped up (obmylival) the atmosphere: Lippanchenko sat in a cloud; my stranger looked at him and thought ‘Pah!, what filth, Tartar stuff …’ Before him sat quite simply a kind of Y …

From the next table someone, hiccuping, exclaimed:

‘You big Y, you big Y …’

‘I say, Lippanchenko, you’re not a Mongol, are you?’

‘Why such a strange question? …’

‘Oh, it just occurred to me …’

‘Well, but Mongol blood flows in every Russian …’

Against the next table leaned a fat paunch; and from the next table a paunch rose to greet it …

‘To the slaughterer Apofriev! …’


‘To the slaughterer of the city abattoirs … Take a seat …’

‘Waiter! …’

‘Well, how are things with you? …’

‘Waiter: put on “The Negro’s Dream” …’

And the horns of the machine bellowed to the slaughterer’s health, like a bull under the slaughterer’s knife.