In a Ring
I did not sleep all night. But one thought the whole night . . . As a result of yesterday’s mishap my head is tightly bandaged — it seems to me not a bandage but a ring, a pitiless ring of glass iron, riveted about my head. And I am busy with the same thought, always the same thought in my riveted circle: to kill U-. To kill U- and then go to her and say: “Now do you believe?” What is most disquieting is that to kill is dirty, primitive. To break her head with something — the thought of it gives me a peculiar sensation of something disgustingly sweet in my mouth, and I am unable to swallow my saliva; I am always spitting into my handkerchief, yet my mouth feels dry.
I had in my closet a heavy piston rod which had cracked during the casting, and which I had brought home in order to find out with a microscope the cause of the cracking. I made my manuscript into a tube (let her read me to the last letter!), pushed the broken piston into that tube, and went downstairs. The stairway seemed endless, the steps disgustingly slippery, liquid. I had to wipe moisture from off my mouth very frequently. Downstairs . . . my heart dropped. I took the piston out and went to the controller’s table. But she was not there; instead, an empty, icy desk. with ink blots. And then I remembered that today all work had stopped; everyone was to go to be operated on. There was no need for her to stay here. There was nobody to be registered. . . .
The street. It was windy. The sky seemed to be composed of soaring panels of cast iron. And exactly as it had seemed for one moment yesterday, the whole world was broken up into separate, sharp, independent fragments, and each of these fragments was falling at full speed; each would stop for a second, hang before me in the air, and disappear without a trace. It was as if the precise, black letters on this page should suddenly move apart and begin to jump hither and thither in fright, so that there was not a word on the page, only nonsensical “ap,” “jum,” “wor.” The crowd seemed just as nonsensical, dispersed (not in rows), going forward, backward, diagonally, transversely. . . .
Then nobody. For a second, suddenly stopping in my mad dashing, I saw on the second floor, in the glass cage of a room hanging in the air, a man and a woman — a kiss; she, standing with her whole body bent backward, brokenly: “This is for the last time, forever. . . .”
At a corner a thorny, moving bush of heads. Above the heads separate, ﬂoating in the air, a banner: “Down with the machines! Down with the Operation!” And, distinct from my own self, I thought: “Is it possible that each one of us bears such a pain, that it can be removed only with his heart? . . . . That something must be done to each one, before he . . .” For a second everything disappeared for me from the world, except my beast-like hand with the heavy, cast-iron package it held. . . .
A boy appeared. He was running, a shadow under his lower lip. The lower lip turned out like the cuff of a rolled-up sleeve. His face was distorted; he wept loudly; he was running away from someone. The stamping of feet was heard behind him. . . .
The boy reminded me: “U- must be in school. I must hurry!” I ran to the nearest opening of the Underground Railway. At the entrance someone passed me and said, “Not running. No trains today . . . there!” I descended. A sort of general delirium was reigning. The glitter of cut crystal suns; the platform packed closely with heads. An empty, torpid train.
In the silence — a voice. I could not see her but I knew, I knew that intense, living, ﬂexible, whip-like, flogging voice! I felt there that sharp triangle of brows drawn to the temples. . . .
“Let me! Let me reach her! I must! . . .”
Someone’s tentacles caught my arm, my shoulders. I was nailed. In the silence I heard:
“No. Go up to them. There they will cure you; there they will overfeed you with that leavened happiness. Satiated, you will slumber peacefully, organized, keeping time, and snoring sweetly. Is it possible that you do not hear yet that great symphony of snoring? Foolish people! Don’t you realize that they want to liberate you from these gnawing, worm-like, torturing question marks? And you remain standing here and listening to me? Quick! Up! To the Great Operation! What is your concern, if I remain here alone? What does it matter to you if I want to struggle, hopelessly struggle? So much the better! What does it matter to you that I do not want others to desire for me? I want to desire for myself. If I desire the impossible . . .”
Another voice, slow, heavy:
“Ah, the impossible! Which means to run after your stupid fancies; those fancies would whirl from under your very noses like a tail. No, we shall catch that tail, and, then . . .”
“And then — swallow it and fall snoring; a new tail will become necessary. They say the ancients had a certain animal which they called ‘ass.’ In order to make it, go forward they would attach a carrot to a bow held in front of its nose, so that it could not reach it. . . . If it had caught and swallowed it . . .”
The tentacles suddenly let me go; I threw myself toward the place she was speaking from; but at that very moment everything was brought down in confusion. Shouts from behind: “They are coming here! Coming here!” The lights twinkled and went out — someone had cut the cable — and everything was like a lava of cries, groaning, heads, ﬁngers. . . .
I do not know how long we were rolled about that way in the underground tube. I only “remember that underneath my feet steps were felt, dusk appeared, becoming brighter and brighter, and again we were in the street, dispersing fan wise in different directions.
Again I was alone. Wind. Gray, low twilight crawling over my head. In the damp glass of the sidewalk, somewhere very deep, there were light, topsy-turvy walls and ﬁgures moving along, feet upward. And that terribly heavy package in my hands pulled me down into that depth, to the bottom.
At the desk again. ‘U- was not yet there; her room was dark and empty. I went up to my room and turned on the light. My temples, tightly bound by the iron ring, were“ pulsating. I paced and paced, always in the same circle: my table, the white package on the table, the bed, my table, the white package on the table . . . In the room to my left the curtains were lowered. To my right, the knotty bald head bent over a book, the enormous, parabolic forehead. Wrinkles on the forehead like a series of yellow, illegible lines. At times our eyes met, and then I felt that those lines were about me.
. . . It happened at twenty-one o’clock exactly. U- came in on her own initiative. I remember that my breathing was so loud that I could hear it, and that I wanted to breathe less noisily but was unable to.
She sat down and arranged the fold of her unif on her knees. The pinkish-brown gills were waving.
“Oh, dear, is it true that you are wounded? I just learned about it, and at once I ran . . .”
The piston was before me on the table. I jumped up, breathing even louder. She heard, and stopped halfway through a word and rose. Already I had located the place on her head; something disgustingly sweet was in my mouth. . . . My handkerchief! I could not ﬁnd it. I spat on the ﬂoor.
The fellow with the yellow, fixed wrinkles which think of me! He must not see. It would be even more disgusting if he could . . . I pressed the button (I had no right to, but who cared about rights at that moment?). The curtains fell.
Evidently she felt and understood what was coming, for she rushed to the door. But I was quicker than she, and I looked the door with the key, breathing loudly and not for 31 second taking my eyes from that place on her head . . . .
“You . . . you are mad! How dare you . . .” She moved backward toward the bed, put her trembling hands between her knees. . . . Like a tense spring, holding her ﬁrmly with my gaze, I slowly stretched out my arm toward the table (only one arm could move), and I snatched the piston.
“I implore you! One day — only one day! Tomorrow I shall go and attend to the formalities . . .”
What was she talking about? I swung my arm . . . And I consider I killed her. Yes, you my unknown readers, you have the right to call me murderer. I know that I should have dealt the blow on her head had she not screamed:
“For . . . for the sake . . . I agree. . . . I. . . one moment . . .” With trembling hands she tore off her unif — a large, yellow, drooping body, she fell upon the bed. . . .
Then I understood; she thought that I pulled the curtains . . . in order to . . . that I wanted . . .
This was so unexpected and so stupid that I burst out laughing. Immediately the tense spring within me broke, and my hand weakened, and the piston fell to the ﬂoor.
Here I learned from personal experience that laughter is the most terrible of weapons; you can kill anything with laughter, even murder. I sat at my table and laughed desperately; I saw no way out of that absurd situation. I don’t know what would have been the end if things had run their natural course, but suddenly a new factor in the arithmetical chain: the telephone rang.
I hurried, grasped the receiver. Perhaps she . . . I heard an unfamiliar voice:
“Wait a minute.”
Annoying, inﬁnite buzzing. Heavy steps from afar, nearer and louder like cast iron, and . . .
“D-503? The Well-Doer speaking. Come at once to me.”
Ding! He hung up the receiver. Ding! like a key in a keyhole.
U- was still in bed, eyes closed, gills apart in the form of a smile. I picked up her clothes, threw them on her, and said through clenched teeth:
“Well. Quick! Quick!”
She raised her body on her elbow, her breasts hanging down to one side, eyes round. She became a ﬁgure of wax.
“Get dressed, that is what!”
Face distorted, she ﬁrmly snatched her clothes and said in a ﬂat voice, “Turn away . . .”
I turned away, pressed my forehead against the glass. Light, ﬁgures, sparks were trembling in the black, wet mirror. . . . No, all this was I, myself — within me. . . . What did HE call me for? Is it possible that HE knows already about her, about me, about everything?
U-, already dressed, was at the door. I made a step toward her and pressed her hand as hard as though I hoped to squeeze out of it, drop by drop, what I needed.
“Listen . . . Her name, you know whom I am talking of, did you report her name? No? Tell the truth, I must . . . I don’t care what happens, but tell the truth!”
“No? But why not, since you . . .”
Her lower lip turned out like the lip of that boy and her face . . . tears were running down her cheeks.
“Because I . . . I was afraid that if I did you might . . . you would stop lov — Oh, I cannot, I could not!”
I understood. It was the truth. Absurd, ridiculous, human truth. I opened the door.