Petersburg The Plan

Yes, yes, yes! …

To bring in the sardine tin by stealth: to put it under his father’s pillow; or – no: to put it under the mattress in a corresponding place. And – his expectation would not deceive him: precision was guaranteed by the clock mechanism.

He would say to him:

‘Good night, Papa!’

In reply:

‘Good night, Kolenka! …’

To give him a squelching kiss on the lips, to go to his room.

To undress impatiently – he must undress without fail! To lock the door with a click, and pull the blanket over his head.

To be an ostrich.

But in the warm, feather bed begin to shiver, to breathe jerkily – from the jolts of his beating heart; to feel miserable, afraid, to try to hear: the bang there would be in there … the crash there would be in there – from behind the flock of stone walls; to wait for the bang, the crash that would blow the silence to pieces, blow the bed, the table and the wall to pieces; having blown to pieces, perhaps … having blown to pieces, perhaps …

To feel miserable, afraid, to try to hear … And then hear the familiar flopping of slippers towards … the place that had no comparison.

From his light French reading to turn – simply to cotton wool, with which to stop up his ears; to put his head under the pillow. To be finally convinced: nothing would help any more! Instantly throwing off the blanket, to stick out his perspiration-covered head – and in an abyss of fear dig a new abyss.

To wait and wait.

Now there was only half an hour left; there already was the greenish lightening of dawn; the room turned blue, turned grey; the flame of the candle grew smaller; and now there were only fifteen minutes left; now the candle was going out; eternities were sluggishly flowing by, not minutes, but precisely – eternities; then a match would strike: five minutes had passed … To reassure oneself that all that would not be soon, but only after ten sluggish revolutions of time, and be shakingly deceived, because –

– an unrepeatable, never yet heard, attracting sound would all the same … –

–crash!! …

Then: –

quickly putting his bare legs into long johns (no, why long johns: better to be as he was, without long johns!) – or even in his undershirt, his face twisted and white –

– yes, yes, yes! –

– to jump out of his warm bed and go pattering through with bare feet into a space that was full of mystery: into the black corridor; to race and race – like an arrow: towards the unrepeatable sound, bumping into servants and taking into his chest a peculiar smell: a mixture of smoke, burning and gas with … something else, that was more horrible than burning, gas or smoke.

As a matter of fact, though, there would probably be no smell.

To run into the room that was full of smoke and very cold; choking with a loud cough, to leap back out again in order to quickly thrust himself again through the black hole in the wall that had formed after the sound (a lighted candelabra would somehow be dancing in his hand).

There: beyond the hole … –

in place of the devastated bedroom, a rust-red flame would illumine … would illumine a mere trifle: clouds of smoke belching from all sides.

And would also illumine … no! … A veil must be thrown over that scene – a veil of smoke, of smoke! That was all there was: smoke and more smoke!

All the same …

To push in under that veil if only for a moment, and – ai, ai! The completely red half of a wall: that redness was flowing; the walls must be wet; and they must be sticky, sticky … All this would be his first impression of the room; and probably his last. Pell mell, between two impressions would impress itself: plaster, splinters of shattered parquetry and torn shreds of scorched rugs; those shreds would be smouldering. No, one had better not, but … a shin-bone?

Why had it survived intact, and not the other parts?

All that would happen in a trice; while in a trice, behind his back: an idiotic rumble of voices, the uneven patter of feet in the depths of the corridor, the desperate wail – imagine! – of the scullery maid; and – the sound of the telephone being used (someone was probably calling the police) …

To drop the candelabra … Squatting down, to shiver beside the hole in the October wind that was blowing through the hole (all the window-panes had been smashed by the noise); and – to shiver, to pull his nightshirt around him, until a compassionate lackey –

– perhaps, the valet, the very man on whom soon afterwards it would be easiest to unload the blame (shadows would fall on him of their own accord) –

– until the compassionate lackey dragged him into the adjacent room and forcibly poured cold water into his mouth …

But, getting up from the floor, to see: –

beneath his feet that same dark-red stickiness that had splashed here after the loud noise; it had splashed out of the hole with a shred of torn-off skin … (from which part of the body?). To lift his gaze – and see above him, sticking to the wall …

Brr! … Then suddenly to faint.

To play out the comedy to the end.

Only twenty-four hours later, before the tightly nailed-up coffin (for there was nothing to bury) – before the coffin to rap out an Acathistus,4 leaning over a candle in a uniform jacket with a close-fitting waist.

Only two days later, his freshly-shaven, marble, godlike countenance tucked away in the fur of his Nikolayevka, to pass to the hearse, outside in the street, with the air of an innocent angel; and to clutch his service cap in white kid-gloved fingers, proceed sorrowfully to the cemetery in the company of that whole exalted retinue … behind a heap of flowers (behind the coffin). Goldchested, white-trousered little old men would drag that heap of flowers up the staircase in their trembling hands – with swords and ribbons.

The heap would be dragged by eight little bald old men!

And – yes, yes!

To give evidence at the inquest, but of a kind that … would all the same cast a shadow … on whomever it might be (not intentionally, of course) …; and a shadow must be cast – a shadow on whomever it might be; if not – the shadow would fall on him … How could it be otherwise?

The shadow would be cast.

Silly little simpleton

Kolenka is dancing:

He has put his dunce-cap on –

On his horse he’s prancing.

And it became clear to him: that very moment when Nikolai Apollonovich was heroically dooming himself to be the executioner of a death penalty – a death penalty in the name of an idea (so he thought), that moment, and nothing else, was the creator of such a plan, and not the grey prospect along which he had rushed all morning; action in the name of an idea was combined, however agitated he had been, with infernally cold-blooded dissembling and, perhaps, with slander: the slander of the most innocent persons (most convenient of all was the valet: after all, he received visits from his nephew, who was a pupil at a vocational school, and, it seemed, not a member of the Party, but … all the same …)

There was none the less calculation in his cold-bloodedness. A lie had been added to parricide, and so had cowardice; but, above all, so had – baseness.

Noble, slender, pale,

Hair like flax has he;

Rich in thought, in feeling poor

N.A.A. – who can he be?

He was a scoundrel …

All that had happened during these past two days was facts, where the fact was a monster: a heap of facts, or rather, a pack of monsters; before these two days there had been no facts; and no monsters had pursued him. Nikolai Apollonovich had slept, read, eaten: had even lusted: after Sofya Petrovna; in a word: it had all flowed within bounds.

But – but! …

He had not eaten as others do, had not loved as others do; not as others do, had he experienced lust: his dreams had been heavy and obtuse; while his food had seemed to lack savour, the lust he had felt after the scene on the bridge had assumed a most absurd tinge – of mockery with the help of the domino; and besides: he hated his father. There was something that was dragging itself behind him, that cast a peculiar light on the working of all his functions (why did he keep shuddering, why did his arms dangle like lashes? And his smile had become – froglike); this something was not a fact, but a fact remained; this fact consisted of something.

What was the something?

A promise to the Party? He had not taken his promise back; and although he was not thinking … others were probably thinking (we know what Lippanchenko was thinking); and thus there it was: he ate in a strange way and slept in a strange way, lusted and hated in a strange way, too … His small figure also seemed strange – in the street; with the wing of his Nikolayevka flapping in the wind, and as if he were round-shouldered …

And so, it was the promise that had emerged by the bridge – there, there: in a gust of Neva wind, when over his shoulder he had caught sight of a bowler hat, a cane, a moustache (the inhabitants of Petersburg are distinguished by – hm-hm – qualities! …)

And beside, his standing by the bridge was merely a consequence of his having been driven to the bridge; and it was lust that had driven him; he had experienced the most passionate feelings somehow in the wrong way, he had burst into flame in the wrong way, not in a good way, coldly.

It must be the cold that was at the root of it all.

The cold had fallen while he was still only a child, when he, Kolenka, had been called, not Kolenka, but – his father’s spawn! He had felt ashamed. Later on, the meaning of the word ‘spawn’ had been revealed to him in its entirety (through the observation of shameful goings-on in the life of domestic animals), and, he remembered – Kolenka had cried: he had transferred the shame of his engendering on to the culprit of his shame: his father.

For hours on end he had stood in front of the mirror, watching his ears grow: they grew.

Only then did Kolenka understand that all living things in the world are ‘spawn’, that there are no human beings, because they are ‘engenderings’; that is, an unpleasant sum total of blood, skin and flesh – unpleasant because the skin sweats, and flesh goes rotten in the warmth; while blood gives off a smell that is not that of May violets.

Thus his psychic warmth was identified with boundless stretches of ice, with the Antarctic; while he – a Pirie, a Nansen, an Amundsen – went round and round in the ice; or his warmth became a bloody slush (man, as is well known, is slush sewn up in skin).

So the soul did not exist.

He hated his own, native flesh; and lusted for that of others. Thus from very earliest childhood he had nurtured within him the larvae of monsters: and when they matured, they crawled out within twenty-four hours and stood around – like facts with horrible contents. Nikolai Apollonovich had been eaten alive; had flowed into monsters.

In a word, he himself had become the monsters.

‘Little frog!’


‘Red buffoon!’

Indeed: in his presence they had joked about blood, called him ‘spawn’; and he had begun to joke about his own blood – a ‘buffoon’, the ‘buffoon’ was not a mask, the mask was ‘Nikolai Apollonovich’ …

The blood in him had prematurely decomposed.

It had prematurely decomposed: that was evidently why he aroused revulsion; that was why his little figure seemed strange in the street.

This decrepit earthen vessel must be blown to pieces: and it was being blown to pieces …