فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER 6

Schizophrenia, as was Said

It was half past one in the morning when a man with a pointed beard and wearing a white coat came out to the examining room of the famous psychiatric clinic, built recently on the outskirts of Moscow by the bank of the river. Three orderlies had their eyes fastened on Ivan Nikolaevich, who was sitting on a couch. The extremely agitated poet Riukhin was also there. The napkins with which Ivan Nikolaevich had been tied up lay in a pile on the same couch. Ivan Nikolaevich’s arms and legs were free.

Seeing the entering man, Riukhin turned pale, coughed, and said timidly:

‘Hello, Doctor.’

The doctor bowed to Riukhin but, as he bowed, looked not at him but at Ivan Nikolaevich. The latter sat perfectly motionless, with an angry face and knitted brows, and did not even stir at the doctor’s entrance.

‘Here, Doctor,’ Riukhin began speaking, for some reason, in a mysterious whisper, glancing timorously at Ivan Nikolaevich, ‘is the renowned poet Ivan Homeless … well, you see … we’re afraid it might be delirium tremens …’

‘Was he drinking hard?’ the doctor said through his teeth.

‘No, he drank, but not really so …’

‘Did he chase after cockroaches, rats, little devils, or slinking dogs?’

‘No,’ Riukhin replied with a shudder, ‘I saw him yesterday and this morning … he was perfectly well.’

‘And why is he in his drawers? Did you get him out of bed?’

‘No, Doctor, he came to the restaurant that way…’

‘Aha, aha,’ the doctor said with great satisfaction, ‘and why the scratches? Did he have a fight?’

‘He fell off a fence, and then in the restaurant he hit somebody … and then somebody else …’

‘So, so, so,’ the doctor said and, turning to Ivan, added: ‘Hello there!’

‘Greetings, saboteur!’1 Ivan replied spitefully and loudly.

Riukhin was so embarrassed that he did not dare raise his eyes to the courteous doctor. But the latter, not offended in the least, took off his glasses with a habitual, deft movement, raised the skirt of his coat, put them into the back pocket of his trousers, and then asked Ivan:

‘How old are you?’

‘You can all go to the devil!’ Ivan shouted rudely and turned away.

‘But why are you angry? Did I say anything unpleasant to you?’

‘I’m twenty-three years old,’ Ivan began excitedly, ‘and I’ll file a complaint against you all. And particularly against you, louse!’ he adverted separately to Riukhin.

‘And what do you want to complain about?’

‘About the fact that I, a healthy man, was seized and dragged by force to a madhouse!’ Ivan replied wrathfully.

Here Riukhin looked closely at Ivan and went cold: there was decidedly no insanity in the man’s eyes. No longer dull as they had been at Griboedov‘s, they were now clear as ever.

‘Good God!’ Riukhin thought fearfully. ‘So he’s really normal! What nonsense! Why, in fact, did we drag him here? He’s normal, normal, only his mug got scratched …’

‘You are,’ the doctor began calmly, sitting down on a white stool with a shiny foot, ‘not in a madhouse, but in a clinic, where no one will keep you if it’s not necessary.’

Ivan Nikolaevich glanced at him mistrustfully out of the comer of his eye, but still grumbled:

‘Thank the Lord! One normal man has finally turned up among the idiots, of whom the first is that giftless goof Sashka!’

‘Who is this giftless Sashka?’ the doctor inquired.

This one here - Riukhin,‘ Ivan replied, jabbing his dirty finger in Riukhin’s direction.

The latter flushed with indignation. ‘That’s the thanks I get,’ he thought bitterly, ‘for showing concern for him! What trash, really!’

‘Psychologically, a typical little kulak,’2 Ivan Nikolaevich began, evidently from an irresistible urge to denounce Riukhin, ‘and, what’s more, a little kulak carefully disguising himself as a proletarian. Look at his lenten physiognomy, and compare it with those resounding verses he wrote for the First of May3 — heh, heh, heh … “Soaring up!” and “Soaring down!!” But if you could look inside him and see what he thinks … you’d gasp!’ And Ivan Nikolaevich burst into sinister laughter.

Riukhin was breathing heavily, turned red, and thought of just one thing, that he had warmed a serpent on his breast, that he had shown concern for a man who turned out to be a vicious enemy. And, above all, there was nothing to be done: there’s no arguing with the mentally ill!

‘And why, actually, were you brought here?’ the doctor asked, after listening attentively to Homeless’s denunciations.

‘Devil take them, the numskulls! They seized me, tied me up with some rags, and dragged me away in a truck!’

‘May I ask why you came to the restaurant in just your underwear?’

‘There’s nothing surprising about that,’ Ivan replied. ‘I went for a swim in the Moscow River, so they filched my clothes and left me this trash! I couldn’t very well walk around Moscow naked! I put it on because I was hurrying to Griboedov’s restaurant.’

The doctor glanced questioningly at Riukhin, who muttered glumly:

‘The name of the restaurant.’

‘Aha,’ said the doctor, ‘and why were you in such a hurry? Some business meeting?’

‘I’m trying to catch the consultant,’ Ivan Nikolaevich said and looked around anxiously.

‘What consultant?’

‘Do you know Berlioz?’ Ivan asked significantly.

‘The … composer?’

Ivan got upset.

‘What composer? Ah, yes … Ah, no. The composer has the same name as Misha Berlioz.’

Riukhin had no wish to say anything, but was forced to explain:

‘The secretary of Massolit, Berlioz, was run over by a tram-car tonight at the Patriarch’s Ponds.’

‘Don’t blab about what you don’t know!’ Ivan got angry with Riukhin. ‘I was there, not you! He got him under the tram-car on purpose!’

‘Pushed him?’

‘“Pushed him”, nothing!’ Ivan exclaimed, angered by the general obtuseness. ‘His kind don’t need to push! He can perform such stunts - hold on to your hat! He knew beforehand that Berlioz would get under the tram-car!’

‘And did anyone besides you see this consultant?’

‘That’s the trouble, it was just Berlioz and I.’

‘So. And what measures did you take to catch this murderer?’ Here the doctor turned and sent a glance towards a woman in a white coat, who was sitting at a table to one side. She took out a sheet of paper and began filling in the blank spaces in its columns.

‘Here’s what measures: I took a little candle from the kitchen …’

‘That one?’ asked the doctor, pointing to the broken candle lying on the table in front of the woman, next to the icon.

That very one, and …‘

‘And why the icon?’

‘Ah, yes, the icon …’ Ivan blushed. ‘It was the icon that frightened them most of all.’ He again jabbed his finger in the direction of Riukhin. ‘But the thing is that he, the consultant, he … let’s speak directly … is mixed up with the unclean powers … and you won’t catch him so easily.’

The orderlies for some reason snapped to attention and fastened their eyes on Ivan.

‘Yes, sirs,’ Ivan went on, ‘mixed up with them! An absolute fact. He spoke personally with Pontius Pilate. And there’s no need to stare at me like that. I’m telling the truth! He saw everything - the balcony and the palm trees. In short, he was at Pontius Pilate’s, I can vouch for it.‘

‘Come, come…’

‘Well, so I pinned the icon on my chest and ran…’

Here the clock suddenly struck twice.

‘Oh-oh!’ Ivan exclaimed and got up from the couch. ‘It’s two o’clock, and I’m wasting time with you! Excuse me, where’s the telephone?‘

‘Let him use the telephone,’ the doctor told the orderlies.

Ivan grabbed the receiver, and the woman meanwhile quietly asked Riukhin:

‘Is he married?’

‘Single,’ Riukhin answered fearfully.

‘Member of a trade union?’

‘Yes.’

‘Police?’ Ivan shouted into the receiver. ‘Police? Comrade officer-on-duty, give orders at once for five motor cycles with machine-guns to be sent out to catch the foreign consultant. What? Come and pick me up, I’ll go with you … It’s the poet Homeless speaking from the madhouse … What’s your address?’ Homeless asked the doctor in a whisper, covering the receiver with his hand, and then again shouting into it: ‘Are you listening? Hello! … Outrageous!’ Ivan suddenly screamed and hurled the receiver against the wall. Then he turned to the doctor, offered him his hand, said ‘Goodbye’ drily, and made as if to leave.

‘For pity’s sake, where do you intend to go?’ the doctor said, peering into Ivan’s eyes. ‘In the dead of night, in your underwear … You’re not feeling well, stay with us.’

‘Let me pass,’ Ivan said to the orderlies, who closed ranks at the door. ‘Will you let me pass or not?’ the poet shouted in a terrible voice.

Riukhin trembled, but the woman pushed a button on the table and a shiny little box with a sealed ampoule popped out on to its glass surface.

‘Ah, so?!’ Ivan said, turning around with a wild and hunted look. ‘Well, then … Goodbye!’ And he rushed head first into the window-blind.

The crash was rather forceful, but the glass behind the blind gave no crack, and in an instant Ivan Nikolaevich was struggling in the hands of the orderlies. He gasped, tried to bite, shouted:

‘So that’s the sort of windows you’ve got here! Let me go! Let me go! …’

A syringe flashed in the doctor’s hand, with a single movement the woman slit the threadbare sleeve of the shirt and seized the arm with unwomanly strength. There was a smell of ether, Ivan went limp in the hands of the four people, the deft doctor took advantage of this moment and stuck the needle into Ivan’s arm. They held Ivan for another few seconds and then lowered him on to the couch.

‘Bandits!’ Ivan shouted and jumped up from the couch, but was installed on it again. The moment they let go of him, he again jumped up, but sat back down by himself. He paused, gazing around wildly, then unexpectedly yawned, then smiled maliciously.

‘Locked me up after all,’ he said, yawned again, unexpectedly lay down, put his head on the pillow, his fist under his head like a child, and muttered now in a sleepy voice, without malice: ‘Very well, then … you’ll pay for it yourselves … I’ve warned you, you can do as you like … I’m now interested most of all in Pontius Pilate … Pilate …’, and he closed his eyes.

‘A bath, a private room, number 117, and a nurse to watch him,’ the doctor ordered as he put his glasses on. Here Riukhin again gave a start: the white door opened noiselessly, behind it a corridor could be seen, lit by blue night-lights. Out of the corridor rolled a stretcher on rubber wheels, to which the quieted Ivan was transferred, and then he rolled off down the corridor and the door closed behind him.

‘Doctor,’ the shaken Riukhin asked in a whisper, ‘it means he’s really ill?’

‘Oh, yes,’ replied the doctor.

‘But what’s wrong with him, then?’ Riukhin asked timidly.

The tired doctor glanced at Riukhin and answered listlessly:

‘Locomotor and speech excitation … delirious interpretations … A complex case, it seems. Schizophrenia, I suppose. Plus this alcoholism …’

Riukhin understood nothing from the doctor’s words, except that things were evidently not so great with Ivan Nikolaevich. He sighed and asked:

‘But what’s all this talk of his about some consultant?’

‘He must have seen somebody who struck his disturbed imagination. Or maybe a hallucination …’

A few minutes later the truck was carrying Riukhin off to Moscow. Day was breaking, and the light of the street lights still burning along the highway was now unnecessary and unpleasant. The driver was vexed at having wasted the night, drove the truck as fast as he could, and skidded on the turns.

Now the woods dropped off, stayed somewhere behind, and the river went somewhere to the side, and an omnium gatherum came spilling to meet the truck: fences with sentry boxes and stacks of wood, tall posts and some sort of poles, with spools strung on the poles, heaps of rubble, the earth scored by canals — in short, you sensed that she was there, Moscow, right there, around the turn, and about to heave herself upon you and engulf you.

Riukhin was jolted and tossed about; the sort of stump he had placed himself on kept trying to slide out from under him. The restaurant napkins, thrown in by the policeman and Pantelei, who had left earlier by bus, moved all around the flatbed. Riukhin tried to collect them, but then, for some reason hissing spitefully: ‘Devil take them! What am I doing fussing like a fool? …’, he spurned them aside with his foot and stopped looking at them.

The rider’s state of mind was terrible. It was becoming clear that his visit to the house of sorrow had left the deepest mark on him. Riukhin tried to understand what was tormenting him. The corridor with blue lights, which had stuck itself to his memory? The thought that there is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason? Yes, yes, of course, that, too. But that - that’s only a general thought. There’s something else. What is it? An insult, that’s what. Yes, yes, insulting words hurled right in his face by Homeless. And the trouble is not that they were insulting, but that there was truth in them.

The poet no longer looked around, but, staring into the dirty, shaking floor, began muttering something, whining, gnawing at himself.

Yes, poetry … He was thirty-two years old! And, indeed, what then? So then he would go on writing his several poems a year. Into old age? Yes, into old age. What would these poems bring him? Glory? ‘What nonsense! Don’t deceive yourself, at least. Glory will never come to someone who writes bad poems. What makes them bad? The truth, he was telling the truth!’ Riukhin addressed himself mercilessly. ‘I don’t believe in anything I write! …’

Poisoned by this burst of neurasthenia, the poet swayed, the floor under him stopped shaking. Riukhin raised his head and saw that he had long been in Moscow, and, what’s more, that it was dawn over Moscow, that the cloud was underlit with gold, that his truck had stopped, caught in a column of other vehicles at the turn on to the boulevard, and that very close to him on a pedestal stood a metal man,4 his head inclined slightly, gazing at the boulevard with indifference.

Some strange thoughts flooded the head of the ailing poet. There’s an example of real luck …‘ Here Riukhin rose to his full height on the flatbed of the truck and raised his arm, for some reason attacking the cast-iron man who was not bothering anyone. ’Whatever step he made in his life, whatever happened to him, it all turned to his benefit, it all led to his glory! But what did he do? I can’t conceive … Is there anything special in the words: “The snowstorm covers …”? I don’t understand! … Luck, sheer luck!‘ Riukhin concluded with venom, and felt the truck moving under him. ’He shot him, that white guard shot him, smashed his hip, and assured his immortality …‘

The column began to move. In no more than two minutes, the completely ill and even aged poet was entering the veranda of Griboedov’s. It was now empty. In a comer some company was finishing its drinks, and in the middle the familiar master of ceremonies was bustling about, wearing a skullcap, with a glass of Abrau wine in his hand.

Riukhin, laden with napkins, was met affably by Archibald Archibaldovich and at once relieved of the cursed rags. Had Riukhin not become so worn out in the clinic and on the truck, he would certainly have derived pleasure from telling how everything had gone in the hospital and embellishing the story with invented details. But just then he was far from such things, and, little observant though Riukhin was, now, after the torture on the truck, he peered keenly at the pirate for the first time and realized that, though the man asked about Homeless and even exclaimed ‘Ai-yai-yai!’, he was essentially quite indifferent to Homeless’s fate and did not feel a bit sorry for him. ‘And bravo! Right you are!’ Riukhin thought with cynical, self-annihilating malice and, breaking off the story about the schizophrenia, begged:

‘Archibald Archibaldovich, a drop of vodka …’

The pirate made a compassionate face and whispered:

‘I understand … this very minute …’ and beckoned to a waiter.

A quarter of an hour later, Riukhin sat in complete solitude, hunched over his bream, drinking glass after glass, understanding and recognizing that it was no longer possible to set anything right in his life, that it was only possible to forget.

The poet had wasted his night while others were feasting and now understood that it was impossible to get it back. One needed only to raise one’s head from the lamp to the sky to understand that the night was irretrievably lost. Waiters were hurriedly tearing the tablecloths from the tables. The cats slinking around the veranda had a morning look. Day irresistibly heaved itself upon the poet.

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