“We had a performance at our club at the train station in the town of Z, with a clairvoyant called Mademoiselle Janna. She read people’s minds and made 150 rubles in a single evening.”
—A Reporter of the People
—A Reporter of the People
The audience froze. A lady in a purple dress and red stockings appeared on stage with anxious, made-up eyes, and behind her a perky, moth-eaten-looking impresario in striped pants with a chrysanthemum in his buttonhole. The impresario darted his eyes left and then right, bent over and whispered into Mademoiselle Janna’s ear:
“In the first row, the bald one with the paper collar—he’s the second deputy station master. He recently proposed, she turned him down. A certain Nourotchka. (To the audience, loudly): Greetings, Ladies and Gentlemen! I have the great honor to introduce the famous clairvoyant and medium, Mamselle Janna of Paris and Sicily. She can see the past, the present and the future, and on top of that, our most intimate family secrets!”
The audience went pale.
(To Mademoiselle Janna): “Make your face mysterious, you idiot. (To the audience): However, you must not think that here we have some kind of witchcraft or other miracle or something. Not at all, for miracles do not exist. (To Mademoiselle Janna): didn’t I tell you a thousand times to wear a bracelet for the show? (To the audience): Everything, with the permission of the Local Party Committee and the Commission for Culture and Education, is based exclusively on the powers of nature. It consists of vitalopathy based on hypnotism, as it is taught by India’s fakirs, who are oppressed by English imperialism. (To Mademoiselle Janna, in a whisper): The woman under the poster, to the side, the one with the tiny purse! Her husband is having an affair at the next train station. (To the audience): If anybody should wish to know deep family secrets, please direct your questions to me, and I will transmit them by means of hypnotism, having put the famous Mademoiselle Janna to sleep ... please, Mademoiselle, take a seat ... one at a time, citizens! One, two, three—Yes! You are beginning to feel sleepy. (He makes a gesture with his hands as if he were about to stick his fingers in Mademoiselle Janna’s eyes.) Ladies and Gentlemen! You have before you a most extraordinary example of occult science! (To Mademoiselle Janna, in a whisper): Fall asleep already! How long are you going to keep staring at me? (To the audience): So, she’s asleep. Let’s begin!”
In the dead silence the station master stood up, went purple, then white, and then asked in a voice wild with fear: “What is the most important event in my life right now?”
(The impresario to Mademoiselle Janna): ”Keep looking at my fingers, you idiot!”
The impresario twirled his index finger under his chrysanthemum buttonhole, then made some mysterious signs with his fingers which spelled out “bro-ken.”
“Your heart has been broken by a perfidious woman!” Mademoiselle Janna spoke in a graveyard voice, as if in a dream.
The impresario blinked approvingly. The audience moaned and turned its eyes on the miserable deputy station master.
“What is her name?” the rejected deputy station master asked in a hoarse voice.
“Nou-ro-tch-ka,” the impresario’s fingers spelled out near his jacket’s lapel.
“Nourotchka!” Mademoiselle Janna answered firmly.
The deputy station master rose from his seat, his face all green. He looked gloomily in all directions, and, dropping his hat and a pack of cigarettes, marched out.
“Will I ever marry?” a hysterical woman’s suddenly shouted from the audience. “Please tell me, my dear Mamselle Janna!”
The impresario appraised the woman with the eye of a connoisseur. He eyed the pimple on her nose, her thin yellow hair and her crooked back. He stuck his thumb between his index and middle finger next to his chrysanthemum buttonhole.
“No, you won’t!” Mademoiselle Janna said.
The audience thundered like a squadron crossing a bridge, and the mortified woman scuttled out.
The woman with the tiny purse moved away from the posters by the wall and sneaked up to Mademoiselle Janna.
“Dasha darling, don’t!” a man’s hoarse whisper came from the crowd.
“No! I will! I’m going to find out all about your tricks and treachery!” the owner of the tiny purse shouted. “Tell me, Mademoiselle! Is my husband cheating on me?”
The impresario eyed the husband, glanced into his embarrassed little eyes, considered the deep crimson of his face and crossed his fingers, which meant yes.
“He is cheating!” Mademoiselle Janna answered with a sigh.
“With whom?” Dasha asked in an ominous voice.
“What the hell is her name?” the impresario thought. “Damn it! ... Oh, yes, yes, yes, the wife of that ... daman! ... Yes! Anna!” “Dear J ... anna, please tell us, J ... anna, with whom the lady’s husband is cheating?”
“With Anna,” Mademoiselle Janna said with aplomb.
“I knew it! I knew it!” Dasha sobbed. “I’ve had my suspicions for some time now! You bastard!”
With these words she slammed the tiny purse on her husband’s right, well-shaven cheek.
The audience roared with laughter.
Jumping the Line
There was a line outside the Moscow Criminal Investigations Department.
“Oh. ... Geez ... all this waiting and waiting!”
“Even here there’s a line!”
“What can you do? Do you happen to be a bookkeeper, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Nope, I’m a cashier.”
“Did you come to get arrested?”
“Yeah, what else!”
“That’s good. So how much were you caught with, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Three thousand smackers.”
“That’s nothing, young man. You’ll just get a year. But if you take your heartfelt repentance into consideration ... and the fact that the Bolshevik Anniversary is coming up ... so, all in all, you’ll do three months, and then, the sweet bird of freedom!”
“You sure? You’re comforting me no end. I was already real desperate. Yesterday I went to see a lawyer, and he scared the living daylights out of me—the article, he tells me, is such that you won’t get away with less than two years’ hard labor.
“Pure twaddle, young man! Trust my experience. Hey, you there! Where do you think you’re going? Get back in line!”
“Citizens! Let me pass! I filched some official money! My conscience is biting me!”
“Everyone’s conscience is biting them! You’re not the only one!”
“I squandered the entire holdings of the Moscow Agrarian Industry Store in drink!” a low voice kept mumbling.
“Quite a fellow, aren’t you! You’ll pay for it now! You’ll never see the light of day again!”
“That’s not true! What if I’m ignorant? And not educated? And there are hereditary social conditions, huh? And my previous conviction? And being an alcoholic?”
“How come they put you, an alcoholic, in charge of the wine store?”
“I did warn them!”
“Hey you! Where do you think you’re going?”
“Citizen Officer! I am tortured by remorse!”
“Hey, stop pushing! I’m tortured too!”
“Excuse me! I’ve been waiting here since ten in the morning to get arrested!”
“Just give me your last name, place of employment, amount!”
“Fioletov, Misha, tortured by remorseful conscience!”
“In Makrettrest—two hundred smackers.”
“Sidorchuk! Process this Fioletov!”
“May I take my toothbrush with me?”
“You may! And you, what was the amount?”
“And how much was it you took?”
“Two hundted in cash, a robe, a watch and some candlesticks.”
“I don’t get it. An official’s robe?”
“What do you mean? Us guys don’t deal with officials. It was a private family. Shtippelman.”
“Then what’s Shtippelman got to do with it?”
“What he’s got to do with it is we knifed him. I’m reporting seven people: his wife, five children and their granny.”
“Sidorchuk! Kakhrushin! Take preventive measures! Now!”
“Excuse me, Citizen Officer! Why is this man getting preferential treatment?”
“Please, citizens! Be conscientious! this man is a murderer!”
“Big deal! You’re telling us he’s a big shot or something? For all you know I might have blown up a state institution!”
“This is an outrage! Bureaucracy! We will complain!”
The Conductor and the Member of the Imperial Family
“Conductors on the Moscow-Byelorussian-Baltic Railroad have been issued Ordinance No. 85, printed in the prerevolutionary days of the Ministry of Transportation, requiring them to provide deferential treatment to members of the Imperial Family.” —A Reporter of the People
The conductors were completely bewildered.
The paper that had arrived from the regimental center was shiny, thick and official. And on the paper was printed: “He who comes upon a member of the Railroad Workers Union must greet him with a polite bow of the head and with the following words: ‘Greetings, comrade!’ You may add the name, if the latter is known.
“And if it should so happen that a Member of the Imperial Family appears, you will salute him according to Ordinance No.85 with the following words: ‘Long live your Imperial Highness!’
“And if, beyond all expectations, it should turn out to be the Emperor himself, replace the word ‘Highness’ with the word ‘Majesty.’“
Having received this paper, Khvostikov went home, and was so aggravated that he immediately fell asleep. And as soon as he fell asleep, he found himself on the platform of the railway station. Then the train came.
“What a beautiful train,” Khvostikov thought, “I’d love to know what kind of person would arrive on a train like this!”
And no sooner had he thought these words than the plate-glass windows blazed with electricity, the doors opened, and out of the blue car stepped the Emperor in person. A shining crown sat rakishly on his head, and a white ermine fur with tails was wrapped around his shoulders. His retinue, spurs clicking and medals glittering, came shuffling along behind him.
“Goodness gracious, what is going on here?” Khvostikov thought, and froze.
“I say! What a surprise!” the Emperor said, staring right at Khvostikov. “If my eyes do not deceive me, we have here my former loyal subject, currently Comrade Conductor Khvostikov! Greetings, my dear fellow!”
“Help ... Long live ... good grief. ... Your ... I’m finished, and my little clilidren too ... Imperial Majesty!” Khvostikov uttered, his lips turning completely blue.
“Look cheerful, you swine, when you address the Emperor!” a voice from the retinue hissed.
Khvostikov tried to put on a cheerful face. The cheerfulness looked rather bizarre. His mouth twisted to the right, and his left eye closed of its own volition.
“So, how have things been with you, my dear Khvostikov?” the Emperor inquired.
“My very humblest thanks,” Khvostikov, half dead, answered soundlessly.
“Is everything all right?” the Emperor continued. “How is the Mutual Help Fund doing? Lots of general meetings?”
“Everything in order!” Khvostikov reported.
“Haven’t you joined the Party yet?” the Emperor asked.
“But you do sympathize, don’t you?” the Emperor inquired with a smile that touched Khvostikov’s spine with a frost of at least five below zero.
“Answer without stammering, you swine!” a voice from behind the Emperor suggested.
“I do, but just a little,” Khvostikov said.
“Aha! Just a little! So tell me, if you could, my dear Khvostikov. whose portrait is that pinned to your breast?”
“This is ... this is, to some extent, Comrade Kamenev,” Khvostikov answered, covering Kamenev’s pin with his palm.
“I see!” the Emperor said. “Very nice indeed. By the way, do you have luggage ropes?”
“Most certainly,” Khvostikov answered, feeling the chill in his stomach now.
“Well then! Take this son of a bitch and hang him on the train brake with the luggage rope!” the Emperor ordered.
“But why, Comrade Emperor?” Khvostikov asked, and all his thoughts turned topsy-turvy.
“For everything!” the Emperor replied with gusto. “For the Trade Union, for ‘Rise all you accursed ... ,’ for the Mutual Help Fund, for ‘The world of oppression we will destroy,’ for the pin, for ‘To the very foundation’ and ... for all the rest. Seize him!”
“But r have a wife and small children, Your Comeraderie!” Khvostikov pleaded.
“Don’t worry about your children and your wife,” the Emperor consoled him, “we’ll hang them, too. I have a strong feeling, and I can see it just by looking at you, that your children are Young Pioneers. Aren’t they?”
“Pi …,” Khvostikov answered like a telephone receiver.
Ten hands grabbed him.
“Help!” Khvostikov screamed, as if his throat were being cut.
And then he woke up.
Bathed in cold sweat.