|Communal Living in Russia: From Books|
|Mikhail Bulgakov. A Dog's Heart. A Monstrous Story. 1925. Translated by Hugh Aplin. Excerpts.|
|Translation of the Russian Transcript|
...the door admitted some special visitors. There were four of them at once. All young persons, and all dressed very modestly.
'What do this lot want?' thought the dog in surprise. The guests were greeted with much greater hostility by Philipp Philippovich. He stood by the desk and looked at the people who had come in like a military commander at his enemies. The nostrils of his hawkish nose flared. The newcomers marked time on the carpet.
'This, Professor,' began the one on whose head a shock of very thick, wavy hair towered up twenty centimetres, 'is what we've come to see you about...'
'It's a mistake, gentlemen, for you to go about without galoshes in such weather,' Philipp Philippovich interrupted him edifyingly, 'firstly, you'll catch cold, and secondly, you've left dirty marks on my carpets, and all my carpets are Persian.'
The one with the shock fell silent, and all four of them stared at Philipp Philippovich in amazement. The silence lasted several seconds, and it was only broken by the tapping of Philipp Philippovich's fingers on a painted wooden dish on the desk.
'Firstly, we're not gentlemen,' finally said the youngest of the four, who had the appearance of a peach.
'Firstly,' Philipp Philippovich interrupted him too, 'are you a man or a woman?'
The four went silent again and opened their mouths. On this occasion it was the first one, the one with the shock, that came to his senses.
'What difference does it make, comrade?' he asked haughtily.
'I'm a woman,' admitted the peach-like youth in a leather jacket, and blushed. In his turn, and for some reason in the deepest possible way, another of the arrivals blushed — a blond in a Caucasian fur hat.
'In that case you may remain in your cap, but you, my dear sir, I would ask to remove your headgear,' said Philipp Philippovich imposingly.
'I'm not your dear sir,' declared the blond sharply, taking off his fur hat.
'We've come to see you,' the dark one with the shock began once again...
'First of all — who are we?'
'We — the new House Committee of our building,' began the dark one in contained fury. 'I'm Shvonder, she's Vyazemskaya, they're Comrades Pestrukhin and Zharovkin. And so, we...'
'Are you the ones put into Fyodor Pavlovich Sablin's apartment?'
'We are,' replied Shvonder.
'God, it's the end for Kalabukhov's house!' exclaimed Philipp Philippovich in despair and clapped his hands together.
'Are you joking, Professor?' said the exasperated Shvonder.
'How can I be joking?! I'm in utter despair,' cried Philipp Philippovich, 'what ever will happen to the central heating now?'
'Are you mocking us, Professor Preobrazhensky?'
'What have you come to see me about? Tell me as quickly as possible, I'm going to have dinner now.'
'We, the House Committee,' began Shvonder with hatred, 'have come to you following a general meeting of the residents of our building, at which the question of the reduction of space in the building's apartments stood...'
'Who stood on whom?' cried Philipp Philippovich, 'be so good as to expound your ideas more clearly.'
'The question of the reduction of space stood.'
'Enough! I understand! Are you aware that by a decree of the 12th of August of this year my apartment is exempt from any reduction of space or resettlement whatsoever?'
'We are,' replied Shvonder, 'but the general meeting, having reviewed your question, came to the conclusion that, in general and as a whole, you occupy an excessive floor area. Utterly excessive. You live alone in seven rooms.'
'I live alone and work in seven rooms,' replied Philipp Philippovich, 'and would like to have an eighth. I need it for use as a library.'
The four of them were dumbstruck.
'An eighth? Eh-heh-heh,' said the blond deprived of his headgear, 'well that's fantastic.'
'It's indescribable!' exclaimed the youth who had turned out to be a woman.
'I have a waiting room — note, it's also the library — dining room, my study — three. A consulting room — four. An operating room — five. My bedroom — six, and the servants' room — seven. All in all, it's not enough... But anyway, that's unimportant. My apartment's exempt, and that's an end to the conversation. Can I go and have dinner?'
'Excuse me,' said the fourth, who resembled a powerful beetle.
'Excuse me,' Shvonder interrupted him, 'it was precisely regarding the dining room and the consulting room that we came to talk. The general meeting requests you voluntarily, by way of labour discipline, to give up the dining room. Nobody in Moscow has dining rooms.'
'Not even Isadora Duncan,' cried the woman in a ringing voice.
Something happened to Philipp Philippovich, as a consequence of which his face turned gently crimson, and he did not utter a single sound, waiting for what would come next.
'And the consulting room too,' continued Shvonder, 'the consulting room can be combined perfectly well with the study.'
'Aha,' said Philipp Philippovich in a strange sort of voice, 'and where then should I be taking my food?'
'In the bedroom,' all four of them replied in unison.
Philipp Philippovich's crimsonness took on a somewhat greyish tone.
'Take my food in the bedroom,' he began in a slightly strangulated voice, 'read in the consulting room, get dressed in the waiting room, operate in the servants' room, and conduct examinations in the dining room. It's quite possible that Isadora Duncan does just that. Maybe she has dinner in the study and cuts rabbits open in the bathroom. Maybe. But I'm not Isadora Duncan!...' he suddenly roared, and his crimsonness became yellow. 'I'm going to dine in the dining room and operate in the operating room! Convey that to the general meeting, and I most humbly request you to return to your affairs and allow me the opportunity of taking my food in the place where it is taken by all normal people — that is, in the dining room, and not in the entrance hall, nor in the nursery.'
'Then in view of your stubborn opposition, Professor,' said the agitated Shvonder, 'we shall lodge a complaint against you with higher authorities.'
'I've been living in this building since 1903. And so, over the course of that period, until April 1917, there was not one instance — I underline it in red pencil, not one — of even one pair of galoshes disappearing out of our main entrance downstairs with its shared, unlocked door. Take note, there are twelve apartments here, I have surgery hours. One fine day in April 1917 all the galoshes disappeared, including two pairs of mine, three sticks, an overcoat and the doorman's samovar. And since that time the galosh stand has ceased to exist. My dear fellow! I'm no longer talking about the central heating. I'm not. So be it: social revolution, so no need for heating. Although some day, if I have the time, I'll do some research on the brain and demonstrate that all this social upheaval is quite simply the ravings of the sick... So what I'm saying is: why, when this whole business began, did everyone start walking up and down the marble staircase in dirty galoshes and felt boots? Why is it still necessary to this day to lock galoshes up? And in addition to set a soldier over them so that nobody can swipe them? Why was the carpet taken away from the main staircase? Does Karl Marx forbid the keeping of carpets on the stairs? Does it say somewhere in Karl Marx that entrance number two in the Kalabukhov House on Prechistenka should be boarded up and you should go round through the backyard? Who needs that? Oppressed negroes? Or the workers of Portugal? Why can't a proletarian leave his galoshes downstairs, instead of dirtying the marble?'
'But Philipp Philippovich, I mean, he doesn't have any galoshes at all,' the bitten one tried to get a word in.
'Nothing of the sort!' replied Philipp Philippovich in a thunderous voice, and poured a glass of wine. 'Hm... I don't approve of liqueurs after dinner: they make you put on weight and have a bad effect upon the liver... Nothing of the kind! He does have galoshes on now, and those galoshes... are mine! Precisely those very galoshes that disappeared on the 13th of April 1917. Who nicked them, one wonders? Did I? Impossible. Sablin the bourgeois?' (Philipp Philippovich poked his finger towards the ceiling.) 'It's ridiculous even to suppose it. Polozov, the sugar refinery man?' (Philipp Philippovich indicated to one side.) It was done by those very songsters! Yes, sir! But they could at least take them off on the staircase! (Philipp Philippovich began to go crimson.) 'What the devil did they take the flowers away from the landings for? Why does the electricity — which, if my memory serves me well, went off twice in the course of twenty years — these days goes off punctually once a month?...'
[Quoted from Mikhail Bulgakov. A Dog's Heart. A Monstrous Story. 1925. Translated by Hugh Aplin. Modern Voices. Published by Hesperus Press Limited, London, 2005. Introduction and English language translation Copyright © Hugh Aplin, 2005. All rights reserved. Quoted by permission.]