Petersburg How Could It Have Happened …

Illumined, covered in phosphorescent blotches, he was now sitting on the dirty bed, resting from his attacks of terror; the visitor had just been – here; and here – a dirty woodlouse was crawling: the visitor had gone. These attacks of terror! During the night there had been three, four, five of them; the hallucination had been followed by a clearing of his consciousness.

He sat inside the clearing like the moon that was shining far away – in front of fleeing clouds; and like the moon, his consciousness shone, illumining his soul as the moon illumines the labyrinths of the prospects. Far in front and behind, his consciousness lit up the cosmic ages and the cosmic expanses.

In those expanses there was no soul: neither person nor shadow.

And – the expanses were deserted.

Amidst his four mutually perpendicular walls he seemed to himself a prisoner captured in expanses, if, that was, a captured prisoner did not sense freedom more than anyone else, and if this narrow little interval between walls was not equal in volume to the whole of outer space.

Outer space was deserted! His deserted room! … Outer space was the final attainment to which wealth could aspire … Monotonous outer space! … His room had always been characterized by monotony … A beggar’s abode would seem excessively luxurious compared to the wretched furnishings of outer space. If he really had moved away from the world, the world’s luxurious splendour would seem wretched compared to these dark yellow walls …

Aleksandr Ivanovich, resting from the attacks of delirium, began to dream of how he had risen high above the world’s sensual mirage.

A mocking voice retorted:

‘The vodka?’

‘The smoking?’

‘The lustful feelings?’

So was he really raised above the world’s mirage?

His head sagged; that was where the illnesses and the terrors and the persecution came from – from insomnia, cigarettes, and the abuse of spirituous liquors.

He felt a most violent stab of pain in a diseased molar tooth; he clutched at his cheek with his hand.

His attack of acute insanity was illuminated for him in a new way; now he knew the truth of acute insanity; insanity itself, in essence, stood before him like a report by his diseased organs of sense – to his self-conscious ‘I’; while Shishnarfne, the Persian subject, symbolized an anagram; it was not, in essence, he who was trying to overtake, pursue and track down his ‘I’ – no, the overtaking and attacking was being done by the organs of his body, which had grown heavier; and, as it fled away from them, his ‘I’ was becoming a ‘not-I’, because through the organs of sense – not from the organs of sense – his ‘I’ was returning to itself; the alcohol, the smoking, the insomnia were gnawing at his body’s feeble constitution; the constitution of our bodies is closely connected to space; and when he had begun to disintegrate, all the spaces had cracked; now bacilli had begun to crawl into the cracks in his sensations, while in the spaces that enclosed his body spectres had begun to hover … So: who was Shishnarfne? With his reverse – the abracadabra-like dream, Enfranshish; but that dream was undoubtedly caused by the vodka. The intoxication, Enfranshish, Shishnarfne were only stages of alcohol.

‘I’d do better not to smoke, not to drink: then my organs of sense will serve me again!’

He – gave a shudder.

Today he had been guilty of betrayal. How had he failed to realize that? For he had undoubtedly been guilty of betrayal: out of fear, he had let Nikolai Apollonovich fall into Lippanchenko’s hands: he distinctly remembered the outrageous buying and selling. He, without believing, had believed, and in this there was treachery. Lippanchenko was even more of a traitor; that Lippanchenko was betraying them, Aleksandr Ivanovich knew; but had hidden his knowledge from himself (Lippanchenko had an inexplicable power over his soul); in this was the root of the illness: in this terrible knowledge that Lippanchenko was a traitor; the alcohol, the smoking, the depravity were only consequences; the hallucinations must only be the final links in the chain that Lippanchenko had deliberately begun to forge for him. Why? Because Lippanchenko knew that he knew; and precisely by virtue of this knowledge Lippanchenko would not let go.

Lippanchenko had enslaved his will; the enslavement of his will had come about because the dreadful suspicion would have given everything away; because he kept wanting to dispel the dreadful suspicion; he drove the dreadful suspicion away by constantly keeping company with Lippanchenko; and, suspecting his suspicion, Lippanchenko would not let him move one step out of his sight; thus each had become bound to the other; he poured mysticism into Lippanchenko; and the latter poured alcohol into him.

Aleksandr Ivanovich now clearly remembered the scene in Lippanchenko’s study; the brazen cynic, the scoundrel had outmanoeuvred him on this occasion, too; he remembered Lippanchenko’s fatty and loathsome neck with its fatty, loathsome fold; as though the fold had been insolently laughing in there, until Lippanchenko turned round, caught his gaze on his neck; catching that gaze, Lippanchenko had understood everything.

That was why he had started trying to frighten him: had stunned him with an attack and mixed up all the cards; insulted him to death with suspicion and then offered him a sole way out: to pretend that he believed in Ableukhov’s treachery.

And he, the Elusive One, had believed in it.

Aleksandr Ivanovich leapt to his feet; and in helpless fury he shook his fists; the deed was done; had been achieved!

That was what the nightmare had been about.

Aleksandr Ivanovich had now quite clearly translated the inexpressible nightmare into the language of his feelings; the staircase, the little room, the loft were Aleksandr Ivanovich’s abominably neglected body; the rushing inhabitant of those mournful spaces, whom they were attacking, who was running away from them, was his self-conscious ‘I’, which was ponderously dragging away from itself the organs that had fallen off; while Enfranshish was a foreign substance that had entered the abode of his spirit, his body – with vodka; developing like a bacillus, Enfranshish raced from organ to organ; it was it that was causing all the sensations of persecution, so that later, striking at the brain, it could cause a severe irritation within it.

He remembered his first meeting with Lippanchenko; the impression had not been a pleasant one; Nikolai Stepanovich had, to tell the truth, displayed curiosity concerning the human weaknesses of the people who entered into association with him; an agent provocateur of superior type could easily possess that clumsy outward appearance, that pair of senselessly blinking eyes.

He had probably looked like a simpleton.

‘Filth … O, filth!’

And to the degree that he became absorbed in Lippanchenko, in the contemplation of the parts of his body, his ways, his habits, so before him there grew – not a man, but a tarantula.

And at that point something made of steel entered his soul:

‘Yes, I know what I shall do.’

A brilliant idea dawned on him: it would all so simply come to an end: how had this not occurred to him earlier; his mission was clearly delineated.

Aleksandr Ivanovich burst into loud laughter:

‘The filth thought he could outmanoeuvre me.’

And again he felt a violent stab of pain in the molar tooth: Aleksandr Ivanovich, torn away from his reverie, clutched at his cheek; the room – universal space – again looked like a wretched room; consciousness was fading (like the light of the moon in the clouds); fever was making him shiver with anxiety and terrors, and the minutes were slowly being fulfilled; one cigarette was being smoked after the other – to the paper, to the wadding …

When suddenly … –