Communal Living in Russia: From Books
From Fiction: Mikhail Zoshchenko. "A Summer Breather."
  Mikhail Zoshchenko. "A Summer Breather." A short story. 1929. Translated by Charles Rougle.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  Getting your own individual little apartment is of course petty bourgeois pure and simple.

People should live in harmony as a collective family, not lock themselves up in their domestic fortresses.

People should live in communal apartments. Everything there's right out in the open. There's always someone to talk to. To ask for advice. To slug it out with.

There are of course some minuses.

The electricity, for example, can be a pain.

You don't know how to figure the bill. Who pays what.

Further on, of course, when our industry gets rolling, every tenant who wants to can put even two meters in every corner. Let the meters measure how much energy has been dispensed. Then, of course, life in our apartments will shine like the sun.

Well, but for the time being it really is one big pain.

For example, at our place there are nine families. One power line. One meter. At the end of the month it's time to fall in and pay up, and then, of course, there are some serious disagreements and now and again a punchfest.

Well, all right, you say: figure it per light bulb.

Well, all right, by the bulb. So one conscientious tenant turns on the light for maybe five minutes to get undressed or catch a flea. But another tenant sits there with the light on chomping away on something until midnight. And he won't turn it off. Although it's not like he's doing ornamental design or something.

And then there's a third one, an intellectual no doubt, who will stare at a book to literally one in the morning or later with no thought to the overall situation.

And maybe he'll even take out the bulb and put in a brighter one. And study his algebra like it's the middle of the day.

And maybe that same intellectual will even shut himself up in his lair and boil water or cook macaroni on a hot plate. This is what you have to understand!

There was one tenant at our place—a mover by trade—who literally went off his rocker on account of all this. He stopped sleeping at night and was constantly trying to find out who was studying algebra and who was heating up food on hotplates. And that was the end of him. Off his rocker.

And after he went off his rocker a relative of his got his room. And that's when all hell broke loose.

Every month we would run up, well, not more than twelve rubles on the meter. All right, in the rottenest month, say thirteen. That, of course, as checked by the tenant who went off his rocker. His monitoring system was very good. I'm telling you, he literally didn't sleep for nights on end and was inspecting something every minute, popping into one place and then another. And he was constantly threatening to take an axe to anyone using too much. In fact it's a wonder living like that didn't drive the other tenants off their rockers.

So we were paying not more than twelve rubles a month.

And suddenly we owe sixteen. Excuse me?! What's going on? What dirty rat ran it up that much? It must be a hot plate, or a heating pad, or something.

We ranted and railed, but we paid.

A month later it's sixteen again.

The honest tenants said it up front: "This is no fun. Us poor bastards scrimp on juice and other people use as much as they want. All right then, we will too. We'll take our hot plates and cook us up some macaroni too.

The next month the bill was nineteen.

The tenants gasped, but they still paid and then they began piling it on. They didn't turn out the lights. They read novels. And they turned on their hotplates.

A month later we ran up twenty-six.

And that's when all hell really broke loose.

The long and the short of it is that when we'd cranked up the meter to thirty-eight rubles the power had to be shut off because everyone refused to pay. Only the intellectual implored us not to and clutched at the line, but we paid no attention to him. We cut it.

It's only temporary, of course. No one is against electrification. We even said so at our tenants' meeting: no one's against it and later on we'll see about getting connected to the grid. But for the time being it's not a problem. Especially since it's getting on toward spring. It's light out. And then comes summer. Little birdies singing. You don't need the lights. No ornamental designs to draw. Well, and as for winter—we'll see. In the winter maybe we'll turn on the power again. Or we'll figure out a monitoring system or something.

But for the time being in the summer we have to rest up. This apartment stuff has us all worn out.


[Translated for this project by Charles Rougle. Copyright © 2008 Charles Rougle. All rights reserved.]

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