Petersburg The Staircase

The staircase!

Threatening, shadowy, damp – it had pitilessly echoed his shuffling step: threatening, shadowy, damp! That had been last night. Here Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin for the first time remembered that he really had passed this way yesterday: it had happened. But what had happened?


Yes: from every door – a disastrous silence was expanding at him; it enlarged without measure and kept forming some kind of rustlings; and without measure, without cease the unknown cretin there swallowed his own spittle with viscous distinctness (that had not been in a dream, either); there were terrible, unfamiliar sounds, all woven from the hollow groanings of the ages; from above, through the narrow windows, one could see – and he did see it – how the gloom there from time to time swept past, whipped up into ragged outlines, and how everything was illumined, when a pale, dim turquoise spread itself at his feet without a single sound, in order to lie untrembling and dead.

There – to there: there the moon was gazing.

But the swarms kept rushing: swarm after swarm – shaggy-maned, transparent and smoky, thunder-bringing – all the swarms hurled themselves at the moon: the pale, dim turquoise grew dark; from all sides shadow burst out, shadow kept covering everything.

Here for the first time Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin remembered how yesterday he had run up this staircase, exerting his last fading energies and without any hope (what hope?) of overcoming – what, precisely? While some kind of black outline (was this really real?) kept running for all it was worth – at his heels, on his track.

And was annihilating him irrevocably.

The staircase!

On a grey weekday it is peaceful, everyday; down at the bottom a hollow banging reverberates: that is someone chopping cabbage – the tenant in flat number four has set up in the cabbage trade for the winter; on an ordinary day this is what it looks like – railings, doors, stairs; on the railings: a cat-smelling, half-torn, worn-through carpet – from flat number four; a floor-polisher with a swollen cheek was beating it with a carpet-beater; and some blonde hussy or other, sneezing into her apron from the dust, as she comes out of the door; between the floor-polisher and the hussy, of their own accord, words emerge:


‘Give us a hand, then, dearie …’

‘Stepanida Markovna … What else have you brought out here …’

‘All right, all right …’

‘And what sort of …’

‘Now it’s “brought out here”, and in there it’s “having your tea” …’

‘And what sort of – I say – work is it …’

‘At the meeting you wouldn’t loaf about: the work would go swimmingly …’

‘Don’t you say bad things about the meeting. You’ll be grateful to them later on!’

‘Then give this feather mattress a beating, oh, you – knight in armour!’

The doors!

That one, there; and that one there … The oilcloth has been ripped off that one; the horsehair bulges shaggily out of the holes; while on this door a card has been fixed with a pin; and on it is written ‘Zakatalkin’ … Who Zakatalkin is, what his first name, what his patronymic, what profession he practises – I leave it to the curious to judge: ‘Zakatalkin’ – and that is all.

From behind the door the bow of a violin diligently saws out a familiar little tune. And a voice is heard:

‘To the beloved fatherland …’

I suppose Zakatalkin is a violinist employed in service: a violinist from the little orchestra of some restaurant.

That is all that can be noticed from an observation of the doors … Yes – one more thing: in former years a tub was placed near the door, which gave off a rancid smell: for filling with water from the water cart: with the installation of water the water carts have gone out of use in the cities.

The stairs?

They are strewn with cucumber rinds, splashes of street dirt and eggshells …