Petersburg Sofya Petrovna Likhutina

That lady … But that lady was Sofya Petrovna; we must at once devote many words to her.

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was distinguished, perhaps, by an excessive chevelure: and she was somehow unusually lissom: if Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had let down her black hair, that black hair would, covering her entire figure, have fallen to her calves; and Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, to be quite honest, simply did not know what to do with this hair of hers, which was so black that there was, perhaps, no object any blacker; because of the excessiveness of her hair, or because of its blackness – whatever the reason: above Sofya Petrovna’s lips a fluff appeared, one that threatened her with a real moustache in her old age. Sofya Petrovna Likhutina possessed an unusual facial colour; this colour was simply that of pearl, marked out with the whiteness of apple petals, or else – with a delicate pink; but if anything unexpectedly agitated Sofya Petrovna, she would suddenly turn completely crimson.

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina’s sweet little eyes were not sweet little eyes at all, but eyes: were I not afraid of lapsing into a prosaic tone, I should call Sofya Petrovna’s sweet little eyes not eyes, but great big eyes of a dark, blue – a dark blue colour (let us call them orbs). These orbs now sparkled, now grew dim, now seemed vacant, somehow faded, immersed in sunken, ominously bluish sockets: and squinted. Her bright red lips were lips that were too large, but her little teeth (ah, her little teeth!): her pearly little teeth! And in addition – her childlike laughter … This laughter imparted to her protruding lips a kind of charm; her lissom figure also imparted a kind of charm; and again it was excessively lissom: every movement of this figure and of its somehow nervous back was now impetuous, now languid – almost outrageously clumsy.

Sofya Petrovna often wore a black woollen dress that fastened at the back and invested her luxurious forms; if I say luxurious forms this means that my vocabulary has dried up, that the banal phrase ‘luxurious forms’ signifies, one way or the other, a threat to Sofya Petrovna: a premature plumpness by the age of thirty. But Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was twenty-three.

Ah, Sofya Petrovna!

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina lived in a small flat that looked on to the Moika: there from the walls on all sides fell cascades of the brightest, most restless colours: brilliantly fiery there – and here azure. On the walls there were Japanese fans, lace, small pendants, bows, and on the lamps: satin lampshades fluttered satin and paper wings as though they were butterflies from tropical lands; and it seemed that a swarm of these butterflies, suddenly flying off the walls, would spill with azure wings around Sofya Petrovna Likhutina (the officers she knew called her Angel Peri,5 probably fusing the two concepts ‘Angel’ and ‘Peri’ quite simply into one: Angel Peri).

Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had hung up on her walls Japanese landscapes, every single one of which depicted a view of Mount Fujiyama; in the hung-up little landscapes there was no perspective at all; but neither was there any perspective in the little rooms, which were tightly stuffed with armchairs, sofas, pouffes, fans and live Japanese chrysanthemums: perspective was a satin alcove, from behind which Sofya Petrovna would come fluttering out, or a reed curtain that fell down from the door, whispering something, through which she would again come fluttering, or else Fujiyama – the motley background to her luxuriant hair; it should be said: when Sofya Petrovna Likhutina flew through from behind the door to the alcove in the mornings, she was a real Japanese woman. But perspective there was none.

The rooms were – small rooms; each was occupied by only one enormous object: in the tiny bedroom the bed was the enormous object: in the tiny bathroom it was the bath; in the drawing-room it was the bluish alcove; in the dining-room it was the table-cum-sideboard; in the maid’s room the object was her maid; in her husband’s room the object was, of course, her husband.

Well, so how could there be any perspective?

All six tiny rooms were heated by steam central heating, which meant that in the little flat you were suffocated by a humid, hothouse heat; the panes of the windows sweated; and Sofya Petrovna’s visitor sweated; both maid and husband eternally sweated; Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was herself covered in perspiration, like a Japanese chrysanthemum in warm dew. Well, so how could any perspective be established in such a hothouse?

And there was no perspective.