Record Seventeen

Through Glass
I Died
The Corridor

I am puzzled. Yesterday, at the very moment when I thought everything was untangled, and that all the X’s were at last found, new unknowns appeared in my equation. The origin of the coordinates of the whole story is of course the Ancient House. From this center the axes of all the X’s, Y’s, and Z’s radiate, and recently they have entered into the formation of my whole life.

I walked along the X-axis (Avenue 59) toward the center. The whirlwind of yesterday still raged within me: houses and people upside down; my own hands torturingly foreign to me; glimmering scissors; the sharp sound of drops dripping from the faucet; all this existed, all this existed once! All these things were revolving wildly, tearing my flesh, rotating wildly beneath the molten surface, there where the “soul” is located.

In order to follow the instructions of the doctor I chose the road that followed not the hypotenuse but the two legs of a triangle. Soon I reached the road running along the Green Wall. From beyond the Wall, from the infinite ocean of green, there arose toward me an immense wave of roots, branches, flowers, leaves. It rose higher and higher; it seemed as though it would splash over me and that from a man, from the finest and most precise mechanism which I am, I would be transformed into . . . But fortunately there was the Green Wall between me and that wild green sea. Oh, how great and divinely limiting is the wisdom of walls and bars! This Green Wall is, I think, the greatest invention ever conceived. Man ceased to be a wild animal the day he built the first wall; man ceased to be a wild man only on the day when the Green Wall was completed, when by this wall we isolated our machine-like, perfect world from the irrational, ugly world of trees, birds, and beasts. . . .

The blunt snout of some unknown beast was to be seen dimly through the glass of the Wall; its yellow eyes kept repeating the same thought which remained incomprehensible to me. We looked into each other’s eyes for a long while. Eyes are shafts which lead from the superficial world into a world which is beneath the surface. A thought awoke in me: “What if that yellow-eyed one, sitting there on that absurd dirty heap of leaves, is happier than I, in his life which cannot be calculated in figures!” I waved my hand. The yellow eyes twinkled, moved back, and disappeared in the foliage. What a pitiful being! How absurd the idea that he might be happier! Happier than I he may be, but I am an exception, am I not? I am sick.

I noticed that I was approaching the dark red walls of the Ancient House, and I saw the grown-together lips of the old woman. I ran to her as fast as I could.

“Is she here?”

The grown-together lips opened slowly.

“Who is ‘she’?”

“Who? I-330, of course. You remember we came together, she and I, in an aero the other day.”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes — yes.”

Ray wrinkles around the lips, artful rays radiating from the eyes. They were making their way deeper and deeper into me.

“Well, she is here, all right. Came in a while ago.”

“Here!” I noticed at the feet of the old woman a bush of silver — bitter wormwood. (The court of the Ancient House, being a part of the museum, is carefully kept in its prehistoric state.) A branch of the bush touched the old woman, she caressed that branch; upon her knees lay stripes of sunshine. For a second, I, the sun, the old woman, the wormwood, those yellow eyes, all seemed to be one; we were firmly united by common veins, and» one common blood — boisterous, magnificent blood — was running through those veins.

I am ashamed now to write down all this, but I promised to be frank to the end of these records: yes, I bent over and kissed that soft, grown-together mouth of the old woman. She wiped it with her hand and laughed.

Running, I passed through familiar, half-dark, echoing rooms, and for some reason I ran straight to the bedroom. When I had reached the door, a thought flashed: “And if she is in there. . . not alone?” I stopped and listened. But all I heard was the tick-tock of my heart, not within me, but somewhere near, outside me.

I entered. The large bed — untouched. A mirror . . . another mirror in the door of the cupboard, and in the keyhole an ancient key upon an ancient ring. No one was there. I called softly: “I-330, are you here?” And then in a still lower voice, with closed eyes, holding my breath — in a voice as though I were kneeling before her, “I-, dear.” Silence. Only the water was dripping fast into the white basin of the washstand. I cannot now explain why, but I disliked that sound. I turned the faucet hard and went out. She was not there, so much was clear. She must be in another “apartment.”

I ran down a wide, somber stairway, pulled one door, another, a third — locked. Every room was locked save that of “our” apartment. And she was not there. I went back again to the same apartment, without knowing why. I walked slowly, with difficulty; my shoe soles suddenly became as” heavy as cast iron. I remember distinctly my thought, “It is a mistake that the force of gravity is a constant; consequently all my formulae . . .”

Suddenly — an explosion! A door slammed down below; someone stamped quickly over the flagstones. I became lightfooted again, extremely light! I dashed to the railing to bend over, and in one word, one exclamation, expressed everything: “You!”

I became cold. Below, in the square shadow of the window frame, flapping’ its pink wing ears, the head of S- passed by!

Like lightning I saw only the naked conclusion. Without any premises (I don’t recall any premises even now) the conclusion: he must not see me here! And on the tips of my toes, pressing myself against the wall, I sneaked upstairs into the unlocked apartment.

I stopped for a second at the door. He was stamping upward, here. If only the door . . . I prayed to the door, but it was a wooden one; it squeaked, it squealed. Like a wind something red passed my eyes, something green, and the yellow Buddha. In front of the mirror door of the cupboard my pale face; my ears still following those steps, my lips . . . Now he was already passing the green and yellow, now he was passing Buddha. Now at the doorsill of the bedroom . . .

I grasped the key of the cupboard; the ring oscillated. This oscillation reminded me of something. Again a conclusion, a naked conclusion without premises; a conclusion, or, to be more exact, a fragment of one: “Now, I-330 is . . I brusquely opened the cupboard and, when inside in the darkness, shut the door firmly. One step! The floor shook under my feet. Slowly and softly I floated somewhere downward; my eyes were dimmed — I died!

Later, when I sat down to describe all these adventures, I sought in my memory and consulted some books; and now I understand, of course! I was in a state of temporary death. This state was known to the ancients, but as far as I am informed it is unknown to us. I have no conception of how long I was dead, probably not longer than five or ten seconds, but after a while I arose from the dead and opened my eyes. It was dark. But I felt I was falling down, down, down. I stretched out my hand to attach myself to something, but the rough wall scratched my fingers; it was running away from me, upward. I felt blood on my fingers. It was clear that all this was not merely a play of my sick imagination. But what was it? What?

I heard my own frequent, trembling breaths. (I am not ashamed to confess this, it was all unexpected and incomprehensible.) A minute, two, three passed; I was still going down. Then a soft bump. The thing that had been falling away from under my feet was motionless. I found in the darkness a, knob, and turned it; a door opened; there was a dim light. I now noticed behind me a square platform, traveling upward. I tried to run back to it but it was too late. “I am cut off here,” I thought. Where “here” might be I did not know.

A corridor. A heavy silence. The small lamps on the vaulted ceiling resembled an endless, twinkling, dotted line. The corridor was similar to the “tube” of our underground railways but it was much narrower, and made not of our glass but of some other, very ancient material. For a moment I thought of the underground caves where they say many tried to save themselves during the Two Hundred Years’ War. There was nothing to do but to walk ahead.

I walked, I think, for about twenty minutes. A turn to the right, the corridor became wider, the small lamps brighter. There was a dim droning somewhere . . . Was it a machine or voices? I did not know. I stood before a heavy, opaque door from behind which came the noise. I knocked. Then I knocked again, louder. Now there was silence behind the door. Something clanked; the door opened slowly and heavily.

I don’t know which of us was the more dumfounded; the thin, blade-like doctor stood before me!

“You here!” His scissors opened and remained open.

And I, as if I did not know a human word, stood silent, merely stared, without comprehending that he was talking to me. He must have told me to leave, for with his thin paper stomach he slowly pressed me to the side, to the more brightly lighted end of the corridor, and poked me in the back.

“Beg your pardon . . . I wanted . . . I thought that she, I-330 . . . but behind me . . .”

“Stay where you are,” said the doctor brusquely, and he disappeared.

At last! At last she was nearby, here, and what did it matter where “here” was? I saw the familiar saffron-yellow silk, the smile bite, the eyes with their curtains drawn. . . . My lips quivered, so did my hands and knees, and I had a most stupid thought: “Vibrations make sounds. Shivering must make a sound. Why, then, don’t I hear it?”

Her eyes opened for me widely. I entered into them.

“I could not . . . any longer! . . . Where have you been? . . . Why? . . .”

I was unable to tear my eyes away from her for a second, and I talked as if in a delirium, fast and incoherently, or perhaps I only thought without speaking out: “A shadow . . . behind me. I died. And from the cupboard . . . Because that doctor of yours . . . speaks with his scissors . . . I have a soul . . . incurable . . . and I must walk . . .”

“An incurable soul? My poor boy!” I-330 laughed. She covered me with the sparkles of her laughter; my delirium left me. Everywhere around her little laughs were sparkling! How good it was! .

The doctor reappeared from around the turn, the wonderful, magnificent, thinnest doctor.

“Well?” He was already beside her.

“Oh, nothing, nothing. I shall tell you later. He got here by accident. Tell them that I shall be back in about a quarter of an hour.”

The doctor slid around the corner. She lingered. The door closed with a heavy thud. Then slowly, very slowly, piercing my heart with a sharp sweet needle, I-330 pressed against me with her shoulder and then with her arm, with her whole body, and we walked away as if fused into one.

I do not remember now where we turned into darkness; in the darkness we walked up some endless stairway in silence. I did not see but I knew, I knew that she walked as I did, with closed eyes, blind, her head thrown a little backward, biting her lips and listening to the music — that is to say, to my almost audible tremor.

I returned to consciousness in one of the innumerable nooks in the courtyard of the Ancient House. There was a fence of earth with naked stone ribs and yellow teeth of walls half fallen to pieces. She opened her eyes and said, “Day after tomorrow at sixteen.” She was gone.

Did all this really happen? I do not know. I shall learn day after tomorrow. One real sign remains: on my right hand the skin has been rubbed from the tips of three fingers. But today, on the Integral, the Second Builder assured me that he saw me touch the polishing wheel with those very same fingers. Perhaps I did. It is quite probable. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.