فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER 7

A Naughty Apartment

If Styopa Likhodeev had been told the next morning: ‘Styopa! You’ll be shot if you don’t get up this minute!’ — Styopa would have replied in a languid, barely audible voice: ‘Shoot me, do what you like with me, I won’t get up.’

Not only not get up, it seemed to him that he could not open his eyes, because if he were to do so, there would be a flash of lightning, and his head would at once be blown to pieces. A heavy bell was booming in that head, brown spots rimmed with fiery green floated between his eyeballs and his closed eyelids, and to crown it all he was nauseous, this nausea, as it seemed to him, being connected with the sounds of some importunate gramophone.

Styopa tried to recall something, but only one thing would get recalled — that yesterday, apparently, and in some unknown place, he had stood with a napkin in his hand and tried to kiss some lady, promising her that the next day, and exactly at noon, he would come to visit her. The lady had declined, saying: ‘No, no, I won’t be home!’, but Styopa had stubbornly insisted: ‘And I’ll just up and come anyway!’

Who the lady was, and what time it was now, what day, of what month, Styopa decidedly did not know, and, worst of all, he could not figure out where he was. He attempted to learn this last at least, and to that end unstuck the stuck-together lids of his left eye. Something gleamed dully in the semi-darkness. Styopa finally recognized the pier-glass and realized that he was lying on his back in his own bed — that is, the jeweller’s wife’s former bed — in the bedroom. Here he felt such a throbbing in his head that he closed his eyes and moaned.

Let us explain: Styopa Likhodeev, director of the Variety Theatre, had come to his senses that morning at home, in the very apartment which he shared with the late Berlioz, in a big, six-storeyed, U-shaped building on Sadovaya Street.

It must be said that this apartment - no. 50 — had long had, if not a bad, at least a strange reputation. Two years ago it had still belonged to the widow of the jeweller de Fougeray. Anna Frantsevna de Fougeray, a respectable and very practical fifty-year-old woman, let out three of the five rooms to lodgers: one whose last name was apparently Belomut, and another with a lost last name.

And then two years ago inexplicable events began to occur in this apartment: people began to disappear1 from this apartment without a trace.

Once, on a day off, a policeman came to the apartment, called the second lodger (the one whose last name got lost) out to the front hall, and said he was invited to come to the police station for a minute to put his signature to something. The lodger told Anfisa, Anna Frantsevna’s long-time and devoted housekeeper, to say, in case he received any telephone calls, that he would be back in ten minutes, and left together with the proper, white-gloved policeman. He not only did not come back in ten minutes, but never came back at all. The most surprising thing was that the policeman evidently vanished along with him.

The pious, or, to speak more frankly, superstitious Anfisa declared outright to the very upset Anna Frantsevna that it was sorcery and that she knew perfectly well who had stolen both the lodger and the policeman, only she did not wish to talk about it towards night-time.

Well, but with sorcery, as everyone knows, once it starts, there’s no stopping it. The second lodger is remembered to have disappeared on a Monday, and that Wednesday Belomut seemed to drop from sight, though, true, under different circumstances. In the morning a car came, as usual, to take him to work, and it did take him to work, but it did not bring anyone back or come again itself.

Madame Belomut’s grief and horror defied description. But, alas, neither the one nor the other continued for long. That same night, on returning with Anfisa from her dacha, which Anna Frantsevna had hurried off to for some reason, she did not find the wife of citizen Belomut in the apartment. And not only that: the doors of the two rooms occupied by the Belomut couple turned out to be sealed.

Two days passed somehow. On the third day, Anna Frantsevna, who had suffered all the while from insomnia, again left hurriedly for her dacha … Needless to say, she never came back!

Left alone, Anfisa, having wept her fill, went to sleep past one o‘clock in the morning. What happened to her after that is not known, but lodgers in other apartments told of hearing some sort of knocking all night in no. 50 and of seeing electric light burning in the windows till morning. In the morning it turned out that there was also no Anfisa!

For a long time all sorts of legends were repeated in the house about these disappearances and about the accursed apartment, such as, for instance, that this dry and pious little Anfisa had supposedly carried on her dried-up breast, in a suede bag, twenty-five big diamonds belonging to Anna Frantsevna. That in the woodshed of that very dacha to which Anna Frantsevna had gone so hurriedly, there supposedly turned up, of themselves, some inestimable treasures in the form of those same diamonds, plus some gold coins of tsarist minting … And so on, in the same vein. Well, what we don’t know, we can’t vouch for.

However it may have been, the apartment stood empty and sealed for only a week. Then the late Berlioz moved in with his wife, and this same Styopa, also with his wife. It was perfectly natural that, as soon as they got into the malignant apartment, devil knows what started happening with them as well! Namely, within the space of a month both wives vanished. But these two not without a trace. Of Berlioz’s wife it was told that she had supposedly been seen in Kharkov with some ballet-master, while Styopa’s wife allegedly turned up on Bozhedomka Street, where wagging tongues said the director of the Variety, using his innumerable acquaintances, had contrived to get her a room, but on the one condition that she never show her face on Sadovaya …

And so, Styopa moaned. He wanted to call the housekeeper Grunya and ask her for aspirin, but was still able to realize that it was foolish, and that Grunya, of course, had no aspirin. He tried to call Berlioz for help, groaned twice: ‘Misha … Misha …’, but, as you will understand, received no reply. The apartment was perfectly silent.

Moving his toes, Styopa realized that he was lying there in his socks, passed his trembling hand down his hip to determine whether he had his trousers on or not, but failed. Finally, seeing that he was abandoned and alone, and there was no one to help him, he decided to get up, however inhuman the effort it cost him.

Styopa unstuck his glued eyelids and saw himself reflected in the pier-glass as a man with hair sticking out in all directions, with a bloated physiognomy covered with black stubble, with puffy eyes, a dirty shirt, collar and necktie, in drawers and socks.

So he saw himself in the pier-glass, and next to the mirror he saw an unknown man, dressed in black and wearing a black beret.

Styopa sat up in bed and goggled his bloodshot eyes as well as he could at the unknown man. The silence was broken by this unknown man, who said in a low, heavy voice, and with a foreign accent, the following words:

‘Good morning, my most sympathetic Stepan Bogdanovich!’

There was a pause, after which, making a most terrible strain on himself, Styopa uttered:

‘What can I do for you?’ — and was amazed, not recognizing his own voice. He spoke the word ‘what’ in a treble, ’can I’ in a bass, and his ‘do for you’ did not come off at all.

The stranger smiled amicably, took out a big gold watch with a diamond triangle on the lid, rang eleven times, and said:

‘Eleven. And for exactly an hour I’ve been waiting for you to wake up, since you made an appointment for me to come to your place at ten. Here I am!’2

Styopa felt for his trousers on the chair beside his bed, whispered: ‘Excuse me …’, put them on, and asked hoarsely: ‘Tell me your name, please?’

He had difficulty speaking. At each word, someone stuck a needle into his brain, causing infernal pain.

‘What! You’ve forgotten my name, too?’ Here the unknown man smiled.

‘Forgive me …’ Styopa croaked, feeling that his hangover had presented him with a new symptom: it seemed to him that the floor beside his bed went away, and that at any moment he would go flying down to the devil’s dam in the nether world.

‘My dear Stepan Bogdanovich,’ the visitor said, with a perspicacious smile, ‘no aspirin will help you. Follow the wise old rule - cure like with like. The only thing that will bring you back to life is two glasses of vodka with something pickled and hot to go with it.’

Styopa was a shrewd man and, sick as he was, realized that since he had been found in this state, he would have to confess everything.

‘Frankly speaking,’ he began, his tongue barely moving, ‘yesterday I got a bit…’

‘Not a word more!’ the visitor answered and drew aside with his chair.

Styopa, rolling his eyes, saw that a tray had been set on a small table, on which tray there were sliced white bread, pressed caviar in a little bowl, pickled mushrooms on a dish, something in a saucepan, and, finally, vodka in a roomy decanter belonging to the jeweller’s wife. What struck Styopa especially was that the decanter was frosty with cold. This, however, was understandable: it was sitting in a bowl packed with ice. In short, the service was neat, efficient.

The stranger did not allow Styopa’s amazement to develop to a morbid degree, but deftly poured him half a glass of vodka.

‘And you?’ Styopa squeaked.

‘With pleasure!’

His hand twitching, Styopa brought the glass to his lips, while the stranger swallowed the contents of his glass at one gulp. Chewing a lump of caviar, Styopa squeezed out of himself the words:

‘And you … a bite of something?’

‘Much obliged, but I never snack,’ the stranger replied and poured seconds. The saucepan was opened and found to contain frankfurters in tomato sauce.

And then the accursed green haze before his eyes dissolved, the words began to come out clearly, and, above all, Styopa remembered a thing or two. Namely, that it had taken place yesterday in Skhodnya, at the dacha of the sketch-writer Khustov, to which this same Khustov had taken Styopa in a taxi. There was even a memory of having hired this taxi by the Metropol, and there was also some actor, or not an actor … with a gramophone in a little suitcase. Yes, yes, yes, it was at the dacha! The dogs, he remembered, had howled from this gramophone. Only the lady Styopa had wanted to kiss remained unexplained … devil knows who she was … maybe she was in radio, maybe not …

The previous day was thus coming gradually into focus, but right now Styopa was much more interested in today’s day and, particularly, in the appearance in his bedroom of a stranger, and with hors d‘œuvres and vodka to boot. It would be nice to explain that!

‘Well, I hope by now you’ve remembered my name?’

But Styopa only smiled bashfully and spread his arms.

‘Really! I get the feeling that you followed the vodka with port wine! Good heavens, it simply isn’t done!’

‘I beg you to keep it between us,’ Styopa said fawningly.

‘Oh, of course, of course! But as for Khustov, needless to say, I can’t vouch for him.’

‘So you know Khustov?’

‘Yesterday, in your office, I saw this individuum briefly, but it only takes a fleeting glance at his face to understand that he is a bastard, a squabbler, a trimmer and a toady.’

‘Perfectly true!’ thought Styopa, struck by such a true, precise and succinct definition of Khustov.

Yes, the previous day was piecing itself together, but, even so, anxiety would not take leave of the director of the Variety. The thing was that a huge black hole yawned in this previous day. Say what you will, Styopa simply had not seen this stranger in the beret in his office yesterday.

‘Professor of black magic Woland,’3 the visitor said weightily, seeing Styopa’s difficulty, and he recounted everything in order.

Yesterday afternoon he arrived in Moscow from abroad, went immediately to Styopa, and offered his show to the Variety. Styopa telephoned the Moscow Regional Entertainment Commission and had the question approved (Styopa turned pale and blinked), then signed a contract with Professor Woland for seven performances (Styopa opened his mouth), and arranged that Woland should come the next morning at ten o‘clock to work out the details … And so Woland came. Having come, he was met by the housekeeper Grunya, who explained that she had just come herself, that she was not a live-in maid, that Berlioz was not home, and that if the visitor wished to see Stepan Bogdanovich, he should go to his bedroom himself. Stepan Bogdanovich was such a sound sleeper that she would not undertake to wake him up. Seeing what condition Stepan Bogdanovich was in, the artiste sent Grunya to the nearest grocery store for vodka and hors d’œuvres, to the druggist’s for ice, and …

‘Allow me to reimburse you,’ the mortified Styopa squealed and began hunting for his wallet.

‘Oh, what nonsense!’ the guest performer exclaimed and would hear no more of it.

And so, the vodka and hors d‘œuvres got explained, but all the same Styopa was a pity to see: he remembered decidedly nothing about the contract and, on his life, had not seen this Woland yesterday. Yes, Khustov had been there, but not Woland.

‘May I have a look at the contract?’ Styopa asked quietly.

‘Please do, please do …’

Styopa looked at the paper and froze. Everything was in place: first of all, Styopa’s own dashing signature … aslant the margin a note in the hand of the findirector4 Rimsky authorizing the payment of ten thousand roubles to the artiste Woland, as an advance on the thirty-five thousand roubles due him for seven performances. What’s more, Woland’s signature was right there attesting to his receipt of the ten thousand!

‘What is all this?!’ the wretched Styopa thought, his head spinning. Was he starting to have ominous gaps of memory? Well, it went without saying, once the contract had been produced, any further expressions of surprise would simply be indecent. Styopa asked his visitor’s leave to absent himself for a moment and, just as he was, in his stocking feet, ran to the front hall for the telephone. On his way he called out in the direction of the kitchen:

‘Grunya!’

But no one responded. He glanced at the door to Berlioz’s study, which was next to the front hall, and here he was, as they say, flabbergasted. On the door-handle he made out an enormous wax seal5 on a string.

‘Hel-lo!’ someone barked in Styopa’s head. ‘Just what we needed!’ And here Styopa’s thoughts began running on twin tracks, but, as always happens in times of catastrophe, in the same direction and, generally, devil knows where. It is even difficult to convey the porridge in Styopa’s head. Here was this devilry with the black beret, the chilled vodka, and the incredible contract … And along with all that, if you please, a seal on the door as well! That is, tell anyone you like that Berlioz has been up to no good — no one will believe it, by Jove, no one will believe it! Yet look, there’s the seal! Yes, sir …

And here some most disagreeable little thoughts began stirring in Styopa’s brain, about the article which, as luck would have it, he had recently inflicted on Mikhail Alexandrovich for publication in his journal. The article, just between us, was idiotic! And worthless. And the money was so little …

Immediately after the recollection of the article, there came flying a recollection of some dubious conversation that had taken place, he recalled, on the twenty-fourth of April, in the evening, right there in the dining room, while Styopa was having dinner with Mikhail Alexandrovich. That is, of course, this conversation could not have been called dubious in the full sense of the word (Styopa would not have ventured upon such a conversation), but it was on some unnecessary subject. He had been quite free, dear citizens, not to begin it. Before the seal, this conversation would undoubtedly have been considered a perfect trifle, but now, after the seal …

‘Ah, Berlioz, Berlioz!’ boiled up in Styopa’s head. ‘This is simply too much for one head!’

But it would not do to grieve too long, and Styopa dialled the number of the office of the Variety’s findirector, Rimsky. Styopa’s position was ticklish: first, the foreigner might get offended that Styopa was checking on him after the contract had been shown, and then to talk with the findirector was also exceedingly difficult. Indeed, he could not just ask him like that: ‘Tell me, did I sign a contract for thirty-five thousand roubles yesterday with a professor of black magic?’ It was no good asking like that!

‘Yes!’ Rimsky’s sharp, unpleasant voice came from the receiver.

‘Hello, Grigory Danilovich,’ Styopa began speaking quietly, ‘it’s Likhodeev. There’s a certain matter … hm … hm … I have this … er … artiste Woland sitting here … So you see … I wanted to ask, how about this evening? …’

‘Ah, the black magician?’ Rimsky’s voice responded in the receiver. ‘The posters will be ready shortly.’

‘Uh-huh …’ Styopa said in a weak voice, ‘well, ’bye …‘

‘And you’ll be coming in soon?’ Rimsky asked.

‘In half an hour,’ Styopa replied and, hanging up the receiver, pressed his hot head in his hands. Ah, what a nasty thing to have happen! What was wrong with his memory, citizens? Eh?

However, to go on lingering in the front hall was awkward, and Styopa formed a plan straight away: by all means to conceal his incredible forgetfulness, and now, first off, contrive to get out of the foreigner what, in fact, he intended to show that evening in the Variety, of which Styopa was in charge.

Here Styopa turned away from the telephone and saw distinctly in the mirror that stood in the front hall, and which the lazy Grunya had not wiped for ages, a certain strange specimen, long as a pole, and in a pince-nez (ah, if only Ivan Nikolaevich had been there! He would have recognized this specimen at once!). The figure was reflected and then disappeared. Styopa looked further down the hall in alarm and was rocked a second time, for in the mirror a stalwart black cat passed and also disappeared.

Styopa’s heart skipped a beat, he staggered.

‘What is all this?’ he thought. ‘Am I losing my mind? Where are these reflections coming from?!’ He peeked into the front hall and cried timorously:

‘Grunya! What’s this cat doing hanging around here?! Where did he come from? And the other one?!’

‘Don’t worry, Stepan Bogdanovich,’ a voice responded, not Grunya’s but the visitor‘s, from the bedroom. The cat is mine. Don’t be nervous. And Grunya is not here, I sent her off to Voronezh. She complained you diddled her out of a vacation.’

These words were so unexpected and preposterous that Styopa decided he had not heard right. Utterly bewildered, he trotted back to the bedroom and froze on the threshold. His hair stood on end and small beads of sweat broke out on his brow.

The visitor was no longer alone in the bedroom, but had company: in the second armchair sat the same type he had imagined in the front hall. Now he was clearly visible: the feathery moustache, one lens of the pince-nez gleaming, the other not there. But worse things were to be found in the bedroom: on the jeweller’s wife’s ottoman, in a casual pose, sprawled a third party - namely, a black cat of uncanny size, with a glass of vodka in one paw and a fork, on which he had managed to spear a pickled mushroom, in the other.

The light, faint in the bedroom anyway, now began to grow quite dark in Styopa’s eyes. ‘This is apparently how one loses one’s mind …’ he thought and caught hold of the doorpost.

‘I see you’re somewhat surprised, my dearest Stepan Bogdanovich?’ Woland inquired of the teeth-chattering Styopa. ‘And yet there’s nothing to be surprised at. This is my retinue.’

Here the cat tossed off the vodka, and Styopa’s hand began to slide down the doorpost.

‘And this retinue requires room,’ Woland continued, ‘so there’s just one too many of us in the apartment. And it seems to us that this one too many is precisely you.’

‘Theirself, theirself!’ the long checkered one sang in a goat’s voice, referring to Styopa in the plural. ‘Generally, theirself has been up to some terrible swinishness lately. Drinking, using their position to have liaisons with women, don’t do devil a thing, and can’t do anything, because they don’t know anything of what they’re supposed to do. Pulling the wool over their superiors’ eyes.’

‘Availing hisself of a government car!’ the cat snitched, chewing a mushroom.

And here occurred the fourth and last appearance in the apartment, as Styopa, having slid all the way to the floor, clawed at the doorpost with an enfeebled hand.

Straight from the pier-glass stepped a short but extraordinarily broad-shouldered man, with a bowler hat on his head and a fang sticking out of his mouth, which made still uglier a physiognomy unprecedentedly loathsome without that. And with flaming red hair besides.

‘Generally,’ this new one entered into the conversation, ‘I don’t understand how he got to be a director,’ the redhead’s nasal twang was growing stronger and stronger, ‘he’s as much a director as I’m a bishop.’

‘You don’t look like a bishop, Azazello,’6 the cat observed, heaping his plate with frankfurters.

That’s what I mean,‘ twanged the redhead and, turning to Woland, he added deferentially: ’Allow me, Messire, to chuck him the devil out of Moscow?‘

‘Scat!’ the cat barked suddenly, bristling his fur.

And then the bedroom started spinning around Styopa, he hit his head against the doorpost, and, losing consciousness, thought: ‘I’m dying …’

But he did not die. Opening his eyes slightly, he saw himself sitting on something made of stone. Around him something was making noise. When he opened his eyes properly, he realized that the noise was being made by the sea and, what’s more, that the waves were rocking just at his feet, that he was, in short, sitting at the very end of a jetty, that over him was a brilliant blue sky and behind him a white city on the mountains.

Not knowing how to behave in such a case, Styopa got up on his trembling legs and walked along the jetty towards the shore.

Some man was standing on the jetty, smoking and spitting into the sea. He looked at Styopa with wild eyes and stopped spitting.

Then Styopa pulled the following stunt: he knelt down before the unknown smoker and said:

‘I implore you, tell me what city is this?’

‘Really!’ said the heartless smoker.

‘I’m not drunk,’ Styopa replied hoarsely, ‘something’s happened to me … I’m ill … Where am I? What city is this?’

‘Well, it’s Yalta …’

Styopa quietly gasped and sank down on his side, his head striking the warm stone of the jetty. Consciousness left him.

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