Petersburg Cockroaches

Lippanchenko stopped in the middle of the dark room with the candle in his hand; the shadowy shoals stopped together with him; the enormous shadowy fat man, Lippanchenko’s soul, hung head down from the ceiling; neither for the shadows of all the objects nor for his own shadow did Lippanchenko feel any interest; rather he was interested in a rustling – one familiar and altogether unmysterious.

He felt a sense of disgusted revulsion at the cockroach; and now – he saw – dozens of these creatures; they fled, rustling, into their dark corners, caught by the light of the candle. And – Lippanchenko was angry:

‘Accursed things …’

And he thudded over to the corner to fetch the floor brush, which was a very long stick with a bristly mop on the end:

‘Think you can get away? Just you wait! …’

He placed the candle on the floor; with the floor brush in his hand he clambered up on a chair; now his heavy, puffing body stuck out over the chair; his vessels were bursting with exertion, his muscles were tensed; and his hair was tousled; he pursued the creeping handfuls with the bristly end of the mop; one, two, three! and – cracking sounds came from under the mop: on the ceiling, on the wall; even – in the corner of the étagère.

‘Eight … Ten … Eleven’ – rustled the threatening whisper; and with cracking sounds, blotches fell to the floor.

Every evening before he slept he squashed cockroaches. Having squashed a good pile of them, he set off for bed.

At last, barging into his little bedroom, he locked the door with its key; and further: he looked under the bed (for some time now this strange custom had formed an indispensable part of his undressing), and before him he placed the guttering candle.

Now he undressed.

Now he sat on the bed, hairy and naked, with his legs apart; female-like rounded shapes were clearly marked on his shaggy chest.

Lippanchenko slept naked.

Obliquely across from the candle, between the window wall and the little wardrobe, in a dark, shadowy niche, an intricate outline emerged: of a pair of trousers that hung here; and formed the likeness of – someone looking out from there; Lippanchenko was for ever hanging his trousers in different places; and the result was always: the likeness – of someone looking out from there.

He saw this likeness now.

And when he blew out the candle, the outline trembled and emerged more clearly; Lippanchenko reached out his hand to the curtain on the window; the curtain was tugged aside: the receding calico rustled; the room shone with a greenish radiance of copper; there, from there: out of the white pewter of the clouds a flaming disc crashed across the room; and … –

Against the background of the completely green and as if vitriol-coloured wall – there! – stood a little figure in a wretched coat, with a frozen, chalk-white face: it looked like a clown, and its white lips were smiling. Lippanchenko went thudding in his bare feet in the direction of the door, but went, belly and breasts, smack into the door (he had forgotten he had locked it); at this point he was pulled backwards; a hot stream of boiling water splashed his bare back from shoulder-blades to buttocks; falling on to the bed, he realized that someone had cut open his back; cut it open as the hairless skin of a cold sucking-pig with horseradish sauce is cut; and no sooner had he realized this than he felt that stream of boiling water – under his navel.

And from there something hissed mockingly; and somewhere inside him he thought it was gases, because his belly had been sliced open; inclining his head over his heaving belly, staring senselessly into space, he slumped down in utter drowsiness, probing the flowing liquid with his fingers – on his belly and on the sheet.

This was his last conscious impression of ordinary reality; now his consciousness expanded; its monstrous periphery sucked the planets into itself; and sensed them as organs that had been disjointed from one another; the sun floated in the expansions of his heart; his backbone was made incandescent by the touch of Saturn’s masses; in his belly a volcano opened.

All this time the body sat senseless with its head sagging on to its chest and its eyes staring at its cleft belly; suddenly it tumbled down – belly first into the sheet; the arm hung over the bloodstained rug, its fur showing reddish in the moonlight; the head with its sagging jaw was thrown in the direction of the door and stared at it with an unblinking eye; the eyebrows began to gleam browlessly; on the sheet emerged the imprint of five bloodstained fingers; and a fat heel protruded.

A bush seethed: white-maned stripes came flying from the gulf; they flew close to the shore in ragged foam; they licked the sands; like thin blades of glass, they rushed over the sands; splashed into a salty lake, filling it with a salt solution; and ran back again. Between the branches of the bush one could see a sailing vessel rocking – turquoise, transparent; in a thin layer it cut the expanses with sharp-winged sails; on the surface of a sail a misty puff of smoke was growing denser.

From the gulf white-maned stripes came flying; the moon illumined them, stripe after stripe foamed in the distance and thundered there; and then fell, flying right up to the shore in ragged foam; from the gulf the flying stripe spread over the flat shore – submissively, transparently; it licked the sands: it cut the sands – corroded them; like a thin blade of glass, it rushed over the sands; here and there the glassy stripes splashed into a salty lake; filled it with a salt solution.

When they entered in the morning, Lippanchenko was no longer there; there was a pool of blood; there was a corpse; and there was also a small figure of a man – with a white, leering face, beside itself; the figure had a small moustache; it was turned up at the ends; very strange: the man was sitting astride the corpse;11 he was clutching a pair of scissors in one hand; he had this hand stretched out; across his face – over his nose, round his lips – the blotch of a cockroach crawled away.

He had evidently gone mad.