فصل 20

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فصل 20

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CHAPTER 20

Azazello’s Cream

The moon in the clear evening sky hung full, visible through the maple branches. Lindens and acacias drew an intricate pattern of spots on the ground in the garden. The triple bay window, open but covered by a curtain, was lit with a furious electric light. In Margarita Nikolaevna’s bedroom all the lamps were burning, illuminating the total disorder in the room.

On the blanket on the bed lay shifts, stockings and underwear. Crumpled underwear was also simply lying about on the floor next to a box of cigarettes crushed in the excitement. Shoes stood on the night table next to an unfinished cup of coffee and an ashtray in which a butt was smoking. A black evening dress hung over the back of a chair. The room smelled of perfume. Besides that, the smell of a red-hot iron was coming from somewhere.

Margarita Nikolaevna sat in front of the pier-glass, with just a bathrobe thrown over her naked body, and in black suede shoes. A gold bracelet with a watch lay in front of Margarita Nikolaevna, beside the box she had received from Azazello, and Margarita did not take her eyes from its face.

At times it began to seem to her that the watch was broken and the hands were not moving. But they were moving, though very slowly, as if sticking, and at last the big hand fell on the twenty-ninth minute past nine. Margarita’s heart gave a terrible thump, so that she could not even take hold of the box right away. Having mastered herself, Margarita opened it and saw in the box a rich, yellowish cream. It seemed to her that it smelled of swamp slime. With the tip of her finger, Margarita put a small dab of the cream on her palm, the smell of swamp grass and forest grew stronger, and then she began rubbing the cream into her forehead and cheeks with her palm.

The cream spread easily and, as it seemed to Margarita, evaporated at once. Having rubbed several times, Margarita glanced into the mirror and dropped the box right on her watch crystal, which became covered with cracks. Margarita closed her eyes, then glanced once again and burst into stormy laughter.

Her eyebrows, plucked to a thread with tweezers, thickened and lay in even black arches over her greening eyes. The thin vertical crease cutting the bridge of her nose, which had appeared back then, in October, when the master vanished, disappeared without a trace. So did the yellowish shadows at her temples and the two barely noticeable little webs of wrinkles at the outer comers of her eyes. The skin of her cheeks filled out with an even pink colour, her forehead became white and clear, and the hairdresser’s waves in her hair came undone.

From the mirror a naturally curly, black-haired woman of about twenty was looking at the thirty-year-old Margarita, baring her teeth and shaking with laughter.

Having laughed her fill, Margarita jumped out of her bathrobe with a single leap, dipped freely into the light, rich cream, and with vigorous strokes began rubbing it into the skin of her body. It at once turned pink and tingly. That instant, as if a needle had been snatched from her brain, the ache she had felt in her temple all evening after the meeting in the Alexandrovsky Garden subsided, her leg and arm muscles grew stronger, and then Margarita’s body became weightless.

She sprang up and hung in the air just above the rug, then was slowly pulled down and descended.

‘What a cream! What a cream!’ cried Margarita, throwing herself into an armchair.

The rubbings changed her not only externally. Now joy was boiling up in her, in all of her, in every particle of her body, which felt to her like bubbles prickling her body all over. Margarita felt herself free, free of everything. Besides, she understood with perfect clarity that what was happening was precisely what her presentiment had been telling her in the morning, and that she was leaving her house and her former life for ever. But, even so, a thought split off from this former life about the need of fulfilling just one last duty before the start of something new, extraordinary, which was pulling her upwards into the air. And, naked as she was, she ran from her bedroom, flying up in the air time and again, to her husband’s study, and, turning on the light, rushed to the desk. On a page torn from a notebook, she pencilled a note quickly and in big letters, without any corrections: Forgive me and forget me as soon as possible. I am leaving you for ever. Do not look for me, it is useless. I have become a witch from the grief and calamities that have struck me. It’s time for me to go.

Farewell.

Margarita.

With a completely unburdened soul, Margarita came flying into the bedroom, and after her ran Natasha, loaded down with things. At once all these things - a wooden hanger with a dress, lace shawls, dark blue satin shoes on shoe-trees and a belt — all of it spilled on the floor, and Natasha clasped her freed hands.

‘What, nice?’ Margarita Nikolaevna cried loudly in a hoarse voice.

‘How can it be?’ Natasha whispered, backing away. ‘How did you do it, Margarita Nikolaevna.’

‘It’s the cream! The cream, the cream!’ answered Margarita, pointing to the glittering golden box and turning around in front of the mirror.

Natasha, forgetting the wrinkled dress lying on the floor, ran up to the pier-glass and fixed her greedy, lit-up eyes on the remainder of the cream. Her lips were whispering something. She again turned to Margarita and said with a sort of awe: ‘And, oh, the skin! The skin! Margarita Nikolaevna, your skin is glowing!’ But she came to her senses, ran to the dress, picked it up and began shaking it out.

‘Leave it! Leave it!’ Margarita shouted to her. ‘Devil take it! Leave it all! Or, no, keep it as a souvenir. As a souvenir, I tell you. Take everything in the room!’

As if half-witted, the motionless Natasha looked at Margarita for some time, then hung on her neck, kissing her and crying out:

‘Satin! Glowing! Satin! And the eyebrows, the eyebrows!’

‘Take all these rags, take the perfume, drag it to your trunk, hide it,’ cried Margarita, ‘but don’t take any valuables, they’ll accuse you of stealing.’

Natasha grabbed and bundled up whatever came to her hand — dresses, shoes, stockings, underwear - and ran out of the bedroom.

Just then from somewhere at the other end of the lane a thundering, virtuoso waltz burst and flew out an open window, and the chugging of a car driving up to the gate was heard.

‘Azazello will call now!’ exclaimed Margarita, listening to the waltz spilling into the lane. ‘He’ll call! And the foreigner’s not dangerous, yes, I understand now that he’s not dangerous!’ There was the noise of a car driving away from the front gate. The garden gate banged, and steps were heard on the tiles of the path.

‘It’s Nikolai Ivanovich, I recognize his footsteps,‘ thought Margarita. ’I must do something funny and interesting in farewell.‘

Margarita tore the curtain open and sat sideways on the window-sill, her arms around her knees. Moonlight licked her from the right side. Margarita raised her head towards the moon and made a pensive and poetic face. The steps tapped twice more, and then suddenly - silence. After admiring the moon a little longer, sighing for the sake of propriety, Margarita turned her head to the garden and indeed saw Nikolai Ivanovich, who lived on the bottom floor of the same house. Moonlight poured down brightly on Nikolai Ivanovich. He was sitting on a bench, and there was every indication that he had sunk on to it suddenly. The pince-nez on his face was somehow askew, and he was clutching his briefcase in his hands.

‘Ah, hello, Nikolai Ivanovich,’ Margarita said in a melancholy voice. ‘Good evening! Coming back from a meeting?’

Nikolai Ivanovich made no reply to that.

‘And I,’ Margarita went on, leaning further out into the garden, ‘am sitting alone, as you see, bored, looking at the moon and listening to the waltz…’

Margarita passed her left hand over her temple, straightening a strand of hair, then said crossly:

‘That is impolite, Nikolai Ivanovich! I’m still a woman after all! It’s boorish not to reply when someone is talking to you.’

Nikolai Ivanovich, visible in the moonlight to the last button on his grey waistcoat, to the last hair of his blond, wedge-shaped beard, suddenly smiled a wild smile, rose from the bench, and, apparently beside himself with embarrassment, instead of taking off his hat, waved his briefcase to the side and bent his knees as if about to break into a squatting dance.

‘Ah, what a boring type you are, Nikolai Ivanovich!’ Margarita went on. ‘Generally, I’m so sick of you all that I can’t even tell you, and I’m so happy to be parting with you! Well, go to the devil’s dam!’ Just then, behind Margarita’s back in the bedroom, the telephone exploded. Margarita tore from the window-sill and, forgetting Nikolai Ivanovich, snatched the receiver.

‘Azazello speaking,’ came from the receiver.

‘Dear, dear Azazello!’ cried Margarita.

‘It’s time. Take off,’ Azazello spoke into the receiver, and it could be heard in his tone that he liked Margarita’s sincere and joyful impulse. ‘When you fly over the gate, shout “Invisible!” Then fly over the city a little, to get used to it, and after that head south, out of the city, and straight for the river. You’re expected!’ Margarita hung up, and here something in the next room hobbled woodenly and started beating on the door. Margarita flung it open and a sweeping broom, bristles up, flew dancing into the bedroom. It drummed on the floor with its end, kicking and straining towards the window. Margarita squealed with delight and jumped astride the broom. Only now did the thought flash in the rider that amidst all this fracas she had forgotten to get dressed. She galloped over to the bed and grabbed the first thing she found, some light blue shift. Waving it like a banner, she flew out the window. And the waltz over the garden struck up louder.

From the window Margarita slipped down and saw Nikolai Ivanovich on the bench. He seemed to have frozen to it and listened completely dumbfounded to the shouting and crashing coming from the lighted bedroom of the upstairs tenants.

‘Farewell, Nikolai Ivanovich!’ cried Margarita, capering in front of Nikolai Ivanovich.

He gasped and crawled along the bench, pawing it with his hands and knocking down his briefcase.

‘Farewell for ever! I’m flying away!’ Margarita shouted above the waltz. Here she realized that she did not need any shift, and with a sinister guffaw threw it over Nikolai Ivanovich’s head. The blinded Nikolai Ivanovich crashed from the bench on to the bricks of the path.

Margarita turned to take a last look at the house where she had suffered for so long, and saw in the blazing window Natasha’s face distorted with amazement.

‘Farewell, Natasha!’ Margarita cried and reared up on the broom. ‘Invisible! Invisible!’ she cried still louder, and, flying over the front gates, between the maple branches, which lashed at her face, she flew out into the lane. And after her flew the completely insane waltz.

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