Petersburg Once again the Thread of His Existence Was Found

It was a dim Petersburg morning.

Now let us return to Aleksandr Ivanovich; Aleksandr Ivanovich had woken up; Aleksandr Ivanovich half opened his stuck-together eyes: the events of the night fled – into the subconscious world; his nerves had come unstrung; the night for him was an event of gigantic proportions.

The transitional state between waking and sleep was throwing him somewhere: as though he were jumping out of the window from the fifth floor; his sensations were opening a howling breach for him in this world; he was flying into this breach, shooting through into a teeming world of which it is insufficient to say that within it substances similar to furies launched attacks: the very fabric of the world appeared to him as a fabric of furies.

Only when it was very nearly morning did Aleksandr Ivanovich begin to master this world; and then he landed in bliss; the awakening flung him rapidly down from there; he felt sorry about something, and as he did so his whole body both ached and throbbed.

In the first moment after his awakening he noticed that he was shaking with a most intense ague; all night he had tossed about: something must have happened … Only, what was it?

His delirious running through the misty prospects, or up and down the steps of a mysterious staircase, had lasted all the long night; or, more correctly, fever had done the running: through his veins; his memory was telling him something, but his memory was slipping away; and he was unable to connect anything with his memory.

It was all – fever.

Frightened in earnest now (in his loneliness Aleksandr Ivanovich was afraid of illnesses), he thought that it would do him no harm to stay at home.

With this thought he began to drift off into oblivion; and, as he did so, he thought:

‘I ought to take some quinine.’

He fell asleep.

And waking up, added:

‘And strong tea …’

And reflecting again, to this he added:

‘With dried raspberries …’

He thought about the fact that he had passed all these recent days with a thoughtlessness that was impermissible in his situation; this thoughtlessness seemed all the more shameful to him because days of enormous and heavy import were approaching.

In spite of himself, he sighed.

‘And I ought also to – strictly stay off the vodka … Not read the Revelations … Not go down and see the yardkeeper … And also those talks I’ve been having with Styopka who lives at the yardkeeper’s: I shouldn’t talk to Styopka …’

At first these thoughts of raspberry tea, vodka, Styopka and the Revelations of St John calmed him, reducing the events of the night to the most utter nonsense.

But, having washed in icy cold water from the tap with the help of a wretched scrap of soap and a yellow soapy slush, Aleksandr Ivanovich again felt an onrush of nonsense.

He cast his gaze around his twenty-five rouble room (an attic lodging).

What a miserable abode it was!

The principal adornment of the miserable abode was the bed; the bed consisted of four cracked boards, put together any old how on a wooden trestle; conspicuous on the cracked surface of this trestle were nasty dried, dark red spots, which had probably been made by bedbugs, since Aleksandr Ivanovich had been stubbornly struggling with these dark red spots for many months with the aid of insect powder.2

The trestle was covered by a thin little mattress stuffed with bast; on top of the mattress, over one single dirty sheet, Aleksandr Ivanovich had carefully thrown a small knitted blanket which could hardly have been called striped: the meagre hints here of some blue and red stripes that had once existed were covered by deposits of grey, which had, however, appeared in all probability not as a result of dirt, but of many years of active use; with this gift from someone (his mother, perhaps) Aleksandr Ivanovich was still somehow loath to part; he was, perhaps, loath to part with it because of an absence of means (it had even been with him to the Yakutsk region and back).

In addition to the bed … yes: here I must say: above the bed hung a small icon depicting Serafim of Sarov’s3 thousand nights of prayer amidst the pine trees, on a stone (here I must say – Aleksandr Ivanovich wore a small silver cross under his shirt).

In addition to the bed one could observe a small, smoothly planed table that was deprived of all ornament: tables precisely such as this figure in the aspect of stands for wash-bowls – in cheap country dachas; tables precisely such as this are sold everywhere at markets on Sundays; this table served Aleksandr Ivanovich in his abode at once as a writing desk and as a bedside table; while the wash-bowl was altogether absent; in performing his toilet Aleksandr Ivanovich took advantage of the services of a water tap, a sink and a sardine tin that contained a scrap of Kazan soap floating in its own slime; there was also a clothes-rack: with trousers; the tip of a worn-down shoe gazed out from under the bed with its perforated toe (Aleksandr Ivanovich had dreamed that this perforated shoe was a living creature: a domestic creature, perhaps, like a dog or a cat; it shuffled around independently, creeping about the room and rustling in the corners; when Aleksandr Ivanovich was about to feed it a piece of white bread he had chewed in his mouth, the shuffling creature had bitten him on the finger with its perforated opening, and then he had woken up).

There was also a brown suitcase that had long ago altered its original shape, and contained objects of the most dreadful contents.

All the furnishings of the room, if such it may be called, faded into the background before the colour of the wallpaper, unpleasant and brazen, neither quite dark yellow nor quite dark brown, showing enormous stains of damp: in the evenings a woodlouse crawled now over this stain, now over another. All the furnishings of the room were shrouded in bands of tobacco smoke. One had to smoke for at least twelve hours non-stop in order to turn the colourless atmosphere into a dark grey, dark blue one.

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin surveyed his abode, and was again (as had previously happened) seized by a yearning to get out of the smoke-steeped room – away: yearned for the street, for the grimy fog, in order to adhere, to be glued, to be fused with shoulders, with backs, with greenish faces on a Petersburg prospect and to show his solid, enormous, grey face and shoulder.

Swarms of the October mists were greenly clinging to the window of his room; Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin felt an uncontainable desire to be permeated by the fog, to permeate his thoughts in it in order to drown in it the nonsense that chattered in his brain, to extinguish it by flashes of delirium that emerged in fiery spheres (the spheres later burst), extinguish it by means of a gymnastics of striding legs; he had to stride – to stride again, again and again; from prospect to prospect, from street to street; to stride until his brain grew completely numb, until he flopped down at the table of an eating-house and scorched himself inside with vodka. Only in this aimless wandering through the streets and crooked lanes – under the street lamps, the fences, the chimneys – can the thoughts that oppress the soul be extinguished.

As he put on his wretched little coat, Aleksandr Ivanovich felt his ague; and with melancholy he thought:

‘Oh, now I could do with some quinine!’

But where would he get quinine …

And, as he went down the staircase, he again thought with melancholy:

‘Oh, now I could do with some strong tea with dried raspberries! …’