Petersburg The Senator’s Second Space

Apollon Apollonovich’s bedroom was simple and small: four grey, mutually perpendicular walls and a single slit of a window with a small white lace curtain; the sheets, the towels and pillowslips on the high-plumped pillows were distinguished by the same whiteness; before the senator went to sleep the valet sprayed the sheet with an atomizer.

Apollon Apollonovich would only permit the use of triple-strength eau-de-Cologne from the Petersburg Chemical Laboratory.

Then: the valet placed a glass of lemon water on the bedside table and hurriedly withdrew. Apollon Apollonovich always undressed himself.

In a most precise manner he threw off his robe; in a most precise manner he threw off his little jacket and his miniature trousers, remaining in his knitted, tightly fitting drawers and singlet; and, thus attired in his underwear, before he went to sleep Apollon Apollonovich strengthened his body with gymnastics.

He would spread his arms and legs; then move them apart and turn his waist this way and that, squatting down twelve times and more, in order then, in conclusion, to pass on to an even more useful exercise: lying down on his back, to strengthen his stomach muscles, Apollon Apollonovich would set about working his legs.

Apollon Apollonovich had recourse to these most useful exercises especially frequently on days when he suffered from haemorrhoids.

After these most useful exercises Apollon Apollonovich pulled the blanket over him in order to devote himself to peaceful rest and to embark upon a journey, for sleep (let us add for our part) is a journey.

This evening, Apollon Apollonovich did the same thing. His head wrapped in the blanket (with the exception of the tip of his nose), he was now hanging from his bed above a timeless void.

But here we shall be interrupted and asked: ‘What do you mean – above a void? What about the walls, and the floor? And … so on? …’

We shall reply.

Apollon Apollonovich always saw two spaces: one that was material (the walls of rooms and the walls of carriages), and another which was not exactly spiritual (it, too, was material) … well, how may one put it: above Senator Ableukhov’s head Senator Ableukhov’s eyes saw strange currents: highlights, gleams, misty, opalescent dancing spots emerging from whirling centres, clouding in twilight the limits of material space; space swarmed in space, and this latter, overshadowing all the rest, disappeared in its turn in an immensity of vacillating, swaying perspectives, which consisted … well, as it were, of Christmas tree tinsel, of little stars, sparks, lights.

Before he went to sleep, Apollon Apollonovich usually closed his eyes and opened them again; and lo and behold: little lights, misty spots, threads and stars, like some bright scum on a bubbling, immensely vast darkness, unexpectedly (for only a quarter of a second) and suddenly formed into a clear picture: of a cross, a polyhedron, a swan, a pyramid filled with light. And then it all flew apart.

Apollon Apollonovich had a strange secret: a world of figures, contours, shimmerings, strange physical sensations – in a word: a universe of strange manifestations. This universe always appeared before he fell asleep; and appeared in such a way that Apollon Apollonovich, going to sleep, remembered at that instant all the earlier inarticulacies, rustlings, crystallographic figures, the golden, chrysanthemum-like stars racing through the darkness on rays that resembled myriapods (sometimes a star like that would bathe the senator’s head in golden boiling water: gooseflesh would run across his cranium): in a word, he remembered all that he had seen the previous day before going to sleep, so as not to remember it again in the morning.

Sometimes (not always) before the very last moment of daytime consciousness, Apollon Apollonovich, as he went to sleep, would notice that all the threads, all the stars, forming a bubbling vortex, made a corridor that ran away into immeasurable distance and (what was most surprising) he would feel that this corridor began from his head, i.e. it, the corridor, was an infinite extension of his own head, the crown of which suddenly opened – an extension into immeasurable distance; thus the old senator, before going to sleep, received the most strange impression that he was looking not with his eyes, but with the very centre of his head, i.e. he, Apollon Apollonovich, was not Apollon Apollonovich but something that had lodged in his brain and was looking out of there, out of his brain; when the crown of his head opened up this something was able both freely and simply to run along the corridor until a point where it plunged into the abyss that was revealed there, far away down the corridor.

This was the senator’s second space – the land of the senator’s nightly journeys; and of this, enough …

With his head wrapped in the blanket, he was now hanging from his bed above a timeless void, the lacquered floor fell away from the legs of the bed and the bed stood, so to speak, on the unknown – but then a strange, distant clatter reached the senator’s ears, like the clatter of small and swiftly beating hooves:

‘Tra-ta-ta … Tra-ta-ta …’

And the clatter was coming nearer.

A strange, a very strange, an exceedingly strange circumstance: the senator thrust out an ear to the moon; and – yes: it was highly probable that in the hall of mirrors someone was knocking.

Apollon Apollonovich thrust out his head.

The golden, bubbling vortex suddenly flew apart in all directions above the senator’s head; the chrysanthemum-like star that was a myriapod moved towards the crown of that head, swiftly disappearing from the senator’s field of vision; and, as always, the tiles of the parquet floor instantly flew up from beyond the abyss towards the legs of the iron bed; at this point Apollon Apollonovich, small and pale, reminiscent of a plucked chicken, suddenly rested his two yellow heels on the rug.

The clatter continued: Apollon Apollonovich leapt up and ran out into the corridor.

The rooms were lit by the moon.

Clad in nothing but his singlet and holding a lighted candle, Apollon Apollonovich journeyed forth into the rooms. Straining after his alarmed master was the little bulldog who turned out to be here, indulgently wagging his little docked tail, jingling his collar and snuffling through his smacked-in muzzle.

Like a flat wooden lid, the hairy chest heaved with painful crepitations, and the pale green tinted ear listened to the clatter. The senator’s gaze happened to fall on a pier-glass: but strangely did the pier-glass reflect the senator: arms, legs, hips and chest were swathed in dark blue satin: that satin threw off a metallic gleam in all directions from itself: Apollon Apollonovich turned out to be clad in blue armour; Apollon Apollonovich turned out to be a little knight and from his hand extended not a candle but some kind of luminous phenomenon which shone with the spangles of a sabre blade.

Apollon Apollonovich screwed up his courage and rushed to the hall; the clatter was coming from there:

‘Tra-ta-ta … Tra-ta-ta …’

And he snarled at the clatter:

‘On the basis of which article of the Code of Laws?’25

As he shouted this, he saw that the indifferent little bulldog was peacefully and sleepily snuffling there beside him. But – what effrontery! – from the hall someone shouted in reply:

‘On the basis of an emergency regulation!’

Indignant at the brazen reply, the little blue knight waved the luminous phenomenon which he held clutched in his hand and rushed into the hall.

But the luminous phenomenon was melting in his little fist: it streamed between his fingers like air and lay at his feet like a little ray. And the clatter – Apollon Apollonovich now saw – was the clicking of the tongue of some kind of wretched Mongol: there some kind of fat Mongol with a physiognomy which Apollon Apollonovich had seen during his time in Tokyo (Apollon Apollonovich had once been sent to Tokyo) – there some kind of fat Mongol was appropriating for himself the physiognomy of Nikolai Apollonovich – appropriating, I say, because this was not Nikolai Apollonovich, but simply a Mongol, as seen in Tokyo; none the less his physiognomy was the physiognomy of Nikolai Apollonovich. This Apollon Apollonovich was unwilling to grasp; with his little fists he rubbed his astonished eyes (and again he did not feel his hands, as he did not feel his face); two intangible points simply rubbed against each other – the space of the hands probed the space of the face). And the Mongol (Nikolai Apollonovich) was approaching with a mercenary end in view.

Here the senator shouted a second time:

‘On the basis of what regulation?

‘And of what paragraph?’

And space replied:

‘There are neither paragraphs nor regulations now!’

And unknowing, unfeeling, suddenly bereft of ponderability, suddenly bereft of the very sensation of his body, turned merely into vision and hearing, Apollon Apollonovich imagined that he had lifted up the space of his eyes (he could not say positively by touch that his eyes were lifted up, for he had thrown off the sense of corporeality), and, having lifted up his eyes in the direction of the site of the crown of his head, he saw that there was no crown, for in the place where the brain is compressed by strong, heavy bones, where there is no sight, no vision – Apollon Apollonovich saw inside Apollon Apollonovich a round, gaping breach into a dark blue distance (in place of the crown); the gaping breach – a dark blue circle – was surrounded by a wheel of flying sparks, highlights, gleams; at that fateful moment when according to his calculations the Mongol (only imprinted on his consciousness, but no longer visible) was creeping up on his helpless body (in that body the dark blue circle was a way out of the body) – at that very moment, with a roaring and a whistling like the sound of the wind in a chimney, something began to suck Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness from beneath the vortex of flashing lights (through the dark blue breach in the crown of his head) out into stellar infinity.

Here a scandal took place (at that moment Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness noted that something similar had already happened: where and when, he could not recall) – here something scandalous occurred: the wind whistled Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness out of Apollon Apollonovich.

Apollon Apollonovich flew out through the circular breach into the blueness, into the darkness, like a gold-plumed star; and, having flown sufficiently high above his head (which seemed to him like the planet Earth), the gold-plumed star, like a rocket, soundlessly disintegrated into sparks.

For a moment there was nothing: there was pretemporal darkness; and in the darkness a consciousness swarmed – not some other consciousness, a universal one, for example, but a perfectly ordinary consciousness: the consciousness of Apollon Apollonovich.

This consciousness now turned back, emitting from itself only two sensations: the sensations fell like arms; and this is what the sensations sensed: they sensed some kind of form (recalling the form of a bathtub), filled to the brim with sticky and stinking filth; the sensations, like arms, began to splash about in the bathtub; Apollon Apollonovich could only compare what the bathtub was filled with to the dungy water in which a repulsive behemoth splashed about (this he had seen several times in the waters of the zoological gardens of enlightened Europe). In a moment the sensations had stuck to the vessel which, as we have said, was full to the brim with abomination; Apollon Apollonovich’s consciousness tried to tear itself away, into space, but the sensations were dragging something heavy behind that consciousness.

The consciousness opened its eyes, and the consciousness saw the very thing it inhabited: it saw a little yellow old man who resembled a plucked chicken; the old man was sitting on the bed; he was resting his bare heels against the rug.

A moment: and the consciousness turned out to be this very same little yellow old man, for this little yellow old man was listening from the bed to a strange, distant clatter, like the clatter of swiftly beating hooves:

‘Tra-ta-ta … Tra-ta-ta …’

Apollon Apollonovich realized that the whole of his journey along the corridor, through the hall, and through his head – had been a dream.

And hardly had he thought this than he woke up: it was a double dream.

Apollon Apollonovich was not sitting on the bed, but Apollon Apollonovich was lying with his head wrapped in the blanket (except for the tip of his nose): the clatter in the hall turned out to be a door banging.

That was probably Nikolai Apollonovich returning home: Nikolai Apollonovich returned late at night.

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Indeed, sir …

‘Very good, sir …’

Only there was something wrong with his back: a fear of being touched on the backbone … Was he developing tabes dorsalis?26