Petersburg Scissors

‘Barin: are you asleep?’

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin had for a long time now felt someone pulling at him.

‘Er, barin! …’

At last he opened his eyes and forced himself into the gloomy day.

‘But barin!’

A head bent down.

‘What is it?’

All that Aleksandr Ivanovich could work out at this stage was that he was stretched out on the trestle.

‘The police?’

The corner of the hot pillow jutted out before his eye.

‘There aren’t any police …’

A dark red blotch was crawling away over the pillow – brr: and – through his consciousness fleeted:

‘That’s a bedbug.’

He tried to raise himself on one elbow, but fell into oblivion again.

‘Oh Lord, do wake up …’

He raised himself on his elbow:

‘Is that you, Styopka?’

He saw a spurt of moving steam; the steam came from a teapot: on his table he saw a teapot and a cup.

‘Oh, how splendid: tea.’

‘What’s splendid about it: you’re burning, barin …’

Aleksandr Ivanych noticed with astonishment that he still had all his clothes on; not even his wretched little overcoat had been removed.

‘How did you get here?’

‘I dropped in to see you: an awful lot of factories are on strike; the police were chasing me … I dropped in to see you, with the Prayer Book, that is …’

‘Why yes, I remember, I have the Prayer Book.’

‘What do you mean, barin: you must have dreamed it …’

‘But we saw each other yesterday, didn’t we …’

‘We haven’t seen each other for two days.’

‘But I thought: it seemed to me …’

What had he thought?

‘I dropped in to see you today; I saw you lying and groaning; you were tossing about, burning – all aflame.’

‘But I’ve recovered, Styopka.’

‘Funny kind of recovery! … Here, I’ve boiled you up some tea; I’ve brought bread; a hot kalatch; drink up and you’ll feel better. It’s not good for you to lie about like that …’

Metallic boiling water had flowed through his veins in the night (that he remembered).

‘Yes – yes: I had quite a substantial fever in the night, my dear fellow …’

‘And no wonder …’

‘A fever of a hundred degrees …’

‘You’ll stew yourself away with all that alcohol.’

‘Stew in my own boiling water, eh? Ha-ha-ha …’

‘Why not? They were talking about an alcoholic fellow who had puffs of smoke coming out of his mouth … And he stewed himself away …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich smiled an unpleasant smile.

‘You’ve drunk yourself to the little devils …’

‘There were little devils, there were … That is why I asked for the Prayer Book: so I could read them a lecture.’

‘You’ll drink yourself to the Green Dragon, too …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich gave another crooked smile:

‘Well, and all Russia, my friend …’


‘Is from the Green Dragon …’

And he thought to himself:

‘Oh, what’s got into me? …’

‘That’s not true at all: Russia is Christ’s …’

‘You’re raving …’

‘You’re raving yourself: you’ll drink yourself to her, to the one herself …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich leapt up in fear.

‘To whom?’

‘You’ll drink yourself to the white … woman …’

That delirium tremens was sneaking up on him, there was no doubt.

‘Oh! I know: I’d like you to go down to the chemist’s … And buy me some quinine: the hydrochloric kind …’

‘Oh, all right, then …’

‘And remember: not the sulphate; the sulphate is pure indulgence …’

‘It’s not quinine you want, barin …’

‘Away now – off you go! …’

Stepan went out of the door, and Aleksandr Ivanovich shouted after him:

‘And Styopushka, get some dried raspberries, too: I want some raspberry jam in my tea.’

And he thought to himself:

‘Raspberries are a splendid sudorific,’ – and with nimble, somehow flowing gestures, he ran over to the water tap; but hardly had he washed himself than inside him everything flared up again, confusing reality with delirium.

Yes. As he had been talking to Styopka, he had had a constant impression that something was waiting for him outside the door: something primordially familiar. There, outside the door? And he leapt to open it; but outside the door there was only the landing; and the railings of the staircase hung over the abyss; now Aleksandr Ivanovich stood over the abyss, leaning against the railings, clicking a completely dry tongue and shivering with ague. There was some taste, some sensation of copper: both in his mouth and on the tip of his tongue.

‘It is probably waiting in the courtyard …’

But in the courtyard there was no one, nothing.

In vain did he run about the secluded corners (between the cubes of stacked firewood); the asphalt gleamed silver; the aspen logs gleamed silver; there was no one, nothing.

‘But where is it?’

Styopka was running by there with his purchases; but he scuffled round behind the firewood away from Styopka, because it had dawned on him:

‘It is in a metal place …’

What was that place, and why was it a metallic it? About all such matters Aleksandr Ivanovich’s whirling consciousness responded very vaguely. Vainly did he endeavour to remember: there remained no memory at all of the consciousness that had dwelt in him; there remained but one recollection: some other consciousness really had been here; that other consciousness had very elegantly unfolded pictures before him; in that world, not at all similar to ours, it dwelt …

It would appear again.

With awakening, every other consciousness was transformed into a mathematical dot, not a real one; and so, therefore, it was compressed by day as a small part of a mathematic dot; but a dot has no parts; and so: it did not exist.

There remained a memory of the absence of a memory and of a matter that must be executed, that would tolerate no procrastination; there remained a memory – of what?

Of a metal place …

Something had dawned on him: and with light, springy steps he ran to the crossing of two streets; at the crossing of the two streets (he knew this) an iridescent gleam came sprinkling out of a shop window … Only where was the little shop? And – where was the crossroads?

Objects shone there.

‘Are there metal things there?’

A remarkable predilection!

Why had such a predilection manifested itself in Aleksandr Ivanovich? Indeed: on the corner of the crossroads metal things shone; this was a cheap little shop that sold all kinds of goods: knives, forks, scissors.

He entered the little shop.

From behind a dirty desk a sleepy mug (probably the owner of these drills, blades, and saws) dragged itself towards the counter that had begun to shine with steel; the narrow-browed head fell somehow steeply on to the chest; in the eye sockets, behind spectacles, hid small, reddish-brown eyes:

‘I’d like, I’d like …’

And not knowing what to take, Aleksandr Ivanovich caught hold of the notched edge of a small saw; it flashed and squealed: ‘squee-squee-squee’. Meanwhile the shopowner surveyed his customer from under his brows; it was not surprising that he looked from under his brows: Aleksandr Ivanovich had leapt down from his garret quite by chance; as he had lain in his little overcoat on the bed, so had he leapt outside: and his little coat was crumpled and smeared with dirt; but above all: he had put no hat on; his shock-haired, uncombed head and excessively glittering eyes would have frightened anyone.

That was why the shopowner was surveying him from under his brows, wrinkling his forehead, raising features that were oppressive and by their very nature heavily constructed; with unmasterable revulsion the face stared at Dudkin.

But this face, trying to control itself, boomed plaintively:

‘Is it a saw you want?’

While the inquisitively drilling little eyes said ferociously:

‘Ah, ha, ha! … A man with the DT’s: so that’s what it’s all about …’

This only appeared to be so.

‘No, you know, a saw – it wouldn’t be very easy for me, with a saw … I’d like, you know, one of those sharpened Finnish knives.’

But the person snapped coarsely:

‘Sorry: I’ve no Finnish knives.’

The drilling little eyes seemed to be saying decisively:

‘If I let you have a knife, there’s no saying what you’ll … get up to …’

Had their eyelids been raised, the inquisitively drilling little eyes would have become plain, ordinary little eyes; all the same, the resemblance struck Aleksandr Ivanovich: imagine – the resemblance to Lippanchenko. Here the figure for some reason turned its back; and threw at the visitor a gaze that would have felled a bull.

‘Well, it’s all the same: scissors will do …’

As he said this, he thought: why this fury, this resemblance to Lippanchenko? But was at once reassured: what sort of resemblance was there, really?

Lippanchenko was clean shaven, while this fat fellow had a curly beard.

But at the thought of a certain person, Aleksandr Ivanovich now remembered: absolutely everything – absolutely everything! He remembered with complete clarity, why it had dawned on him, this idea of running down to a little shop that sold such items. What he was planning to do was really quite simple: snip – and that was it.

He began to shake over the scissors:

‘Don’t wrap them up – no, no … I live quite near here … Give them to me as they are: I’ll take them as they are …’

So saying, into his pocket he put the miniature scissors, of the kind that is probably used by dandies to cut their nails in the mornings, and – rushed off.

Astonished, frightened, suspicious, the square, narrow-browed head, with its protruding frontal bone, stared after him (from behind the gleaming counter); that frontal bone protruded with one single, intense, stubborn effort: to understand what had happened: to understand, come what may, to understand, at whatever cost; to understand, or … explode into pieces.

And the frontal bone could not understand; the forehead was pathetic: narrow, covered in diametrical wrinkles; it seemed to be weeping.