Petersburg Strange Qualities

The cerebral play of the wearer of diamond decorations was distinguished by strange, highly strange, exceedingly strange qualities: his cranium became the womb of mental images that were instantly incarnated in this ghostly world.

Once he had taken into consideration this strange, highly strange, exceedingly strange circumstance, it would have been better had Apollon Apollonovich not cast from himself one single idle thought, continuing to carry around idle thoughts, too, in his head: for each idle thought stubbornly developed into a spatio-temporal image, continuing its – by now unchecked – activities outside the senatorial head.

Apollon Apollonovich was in a certain sense like Zeus: out of his head flowed gods, goddesses and spirits. We have already seen: one such spirit (the stranger with the small black moustache), coming into being as an image, had then quite simply begun to exist in the yellowish expanses of the Neva, asserting that he had come – precisely out of them: not out of the senatorial head; this stranger proved to have idle thoughts too; and those idle thoughts possessed the same qualities.

They escaped and acquired substance.

And one such escaped thought of the stranger’s was the thought that he, the stranger, really existed; from the Nevsky Prospect this thought fleeted back into the senatorial brain and there strengthened his awareness, as though the stranger’s very existence in that head had been an illusory existence.

Thus was the circle closed.

Apollon Apollonovich was in a certain sense like Zeus: hardly had the Stranger–Pallas, armed with a small bundle, been born out of his head, than out clambered another Pallas exactly like it.

This Pallas was the senator’s house.

The stone colossus has escaped from his brain; and now the house opens its hospitable door – to us.

The lackey was going up the staircase; he suffered from breathlessness, though we are not concerned with that now, but with … the staircase: a beautiful staircase! And it has steps – as soft as the convolutions of the brain. But the author does not have time to describe to the reader that same staircase, up which ministers have climbed more than once (he will describe it later), because the lackey is already in the reception hall …

And again – the reception hall: beautiful! Windows and walls: the walls somewhat cold … But the lackey was in the drawing-room (we have seen the drawing-room): We have glanced over the beautiful abode, guided by the general characteristic which the senator was in the habit of allotting to all objects.

Thus: –

– when, once in a blue moon, he ended up in the flowering bosom of nature, Apollon Apollonovich saw the same thing here as we did; that is: he saw – the flowering bosom of nature; but for us this bosom instantly disintegrated into characteristics: into violets, buttercups, dandelions and pinks; but the senator reduced these particulars once more to a unity. We, of course, would say:

‘There is a buttercup!’

‘There is a forget-me-not! …’

Apollon Apollonovich said simply, and briefly:

‘Flowers …’

‘A flower …’

Let it be said between ourselves: Apollon Apollonovich for some reason considered all flowers to be bluebells … –

He would even have characterized his own house with laconic brevity, a house which for him consisted of walls (forming squares and cubes), cut-through windows, parquets, chairs, tables; after that – the details began.

The lackey entered the corridor …

And here it will do no harm to remember: the things that fleeted past (the pictures, the grand piano, the mirrors, the mother-of-pearl, the incrustation of the small tables), – in a word, everything that had fleeted past, could have no spatial form: it was all of it a mere irritation of the cerebral membrane, if not a chronic indisposition … perhaps, of the cerebellum.

The illusion of a room took form; and then it would fly apart without trace, erecting beyond the limit of consciousness its misty planes; and when the lackey slammed behind him the heavy doors to the drawing-room, when his boots hammered along the small, resonant corridor, it was only a hammering in the temples: Apollon Apollonovich suffered from haemorrhoidal rushes of blood.

Behind the slammed door there turned out to be no drawing-room: there turned out to be … cerebral spaces: convolutions, grey and white matter, the pineal gland; while the heavy walls, that consisted of sparkling spray (caused by the rush of blood) – the bare walls were only a leaden and painful sensation: of the occipital, frontal, temporal and sincipital bones belonging to the respected skull.

The house – the stone colossus – was not a house: the stone leviathan was the senatorial head: Apollon Apollonovich sat at the desk, over dossiers, depressed by migraine, with the sensation that his head was six times larger than it ought to be, and twelve times heavier than it ought to be.

Strange, highly strange, exceedingly strange qualities!