From Books > From Fiction > Mikhail Zoshchenko. "The Crisis"
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Mikhail Zoshchenko. "The Crisis". A short story. 1925. Translated by Charles Rougle.
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Just the other day, citizens, they hauled a load of bricks down the street. Yes, indeed!

You know, my heart up and started to pitter-patter with joy. On account of this means we're building, citizens. They don't go hauling bricks around for nothing. It's begun—cross your fingers and knock on wood!

Maybe in about twenty years, maybe less, all citizens might have a whole room each. And if the population doesn't go and grow too fast, and if, for instance, they'll let everyone get an abortion, maybe there'll be two or even three per snoot. Bathroom included.

Then we'll really begin living, citizens! There'll be one room, say, to sleep in, another for entertaining guests, and a third for whichever... All kinds of stuff! Living a free life like that we'll find plenty of things to do.

Well, but for the time being this living space thing is kind of tough. Sort of skimpy on account of the crisis.

Now me, you guys, I've lived in Moscow. Just got back from there. Got to know this crisis first hand.

So I come to Moscow. I'm walking around the streets with my things. And I mean there was just no way. Not only no place to stay, but no place to put my things.

So two weeks I'm walking the streets with my things. Grew a scruffy beard and little by little lost all my things. So there I was traveling light without anything. Trying to find somewhere to live.

Finally in one building there's this little guy coming down the stairs.

"For thirty rubles," he goes, "I can set you up in the bathroom. It's a classy apartment," he says. "Three toilets... A bathroom... In the bathroom," he goes, "is where you can live. No windows," he says, "but there is a door. And you've got water right there. If you want," he says, "fill up the tub and dive around all day."

"I'm not a fish, comrade," I says. "I don't need to go diving around," I says. "Me," I says, "I'd rather live on dry land. Give me a discount," I says, "on account of the dampness."

"Can't do it, comrade," he says. "I'd be glad to, but I can't. It's not only mine to decide. It's a communal apartment. And we've set a firm price for the bathroom."

"Well, what can I do?" I says. All right then. "Hit me for thirty," I says, "and let me move in right away," I says. "I've been on the streets for three weeks," I says. "I'm afraid I might get tired," I says.

Well, all right. They let me in. I begin living there.

Now the bathroom really was classy. Everywhere you put your foot—a marble tub, a water heater, faucets. Incidentally, though, no place to sit. Try to sit on the edge and down you go, smack dab into the marble bathtub.

So I rig up a cover of boards for it and go on living.

A month later, incidentally, I got married.

So this young, you know, good natured wife comes along. With no room of her own.

I figured she'd turn me down on account of the bathroom, and no family happiness and comfort would I know, but she didn't mind, she didn't turn me down. She just frowns a bit and goes:

"Well, what the heck," she says. "Decent people live in bathrooms too. And in the worst case," she says, "we can put up a partition. Like here," she goes, "is the boudoir, and over here the dining room."

"A partition would work, citizeness," I says. But the tenants," I go, "are bastards. They won't let us. They even say so: no alterations."

"Well all right then. We'll live here as is."

Less than a year later me and my wife had a little bitty baby.

We called him Volodka and moved on with our life. We gave him baths right there and went on living.

And you know, things were going along even kind of great. The baby gets a bath every day and doesn't catch cold at all.

Just one inconvenience—in the evening the communal tenants would come barging in to the bathroom to wash up.

Then the whole family had to move out into the hallway.

I even begged the tenants: "Citizens," I go, "take your baths on Saturdays. You can't be taking a bath every day," I go. "When am I supposed to live?" I says. "Look at it from my position."

But there's thirty two of the s.o.b.'s. And they're all swearing at me. And they threaten to bust me in the chops if I try anything.

So what to do—nothing to do. We go on living like before.

After a little while my wife's mother from the provinces shows up in our bathroom. She settles herself in behind the water heater.

"I've been wanting to rock my grandson in my lap for a long time now," she says. "You can't refuse me this entertainment," she says.

"I'm not refusing," I says. "Go on, Grandma," I says, "rock away. To heck with you. Go ahead and fill the tub," I says, "and take your grandson diving."

And I says to my wife: "Maybe you've got some more relatives coming, citizeness, so tell me right now, don't keep me in suspense."

She says: "Maybe just my kid brother for the Christmas holidays..."

I didn't wait for her kid brother but departed from Moscow. I send the family money in the mail.

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

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