This morning while we were in the refectory my neighbor to my left whispered to me in a frightened tone:
“But why don’t you eat? Don’t you see, they are looking at you!”
I had to pluck up all my strength to show a smile. I felt it — like a crack in my face; I smiled, and the borders of the crack drew apart wider and wider; it was quite painful.
And then: no sooner had I lifted the small cube of paste upon my fork, than the fork jerked from my hand and tinkled against the plate. And at once the tables, the walls, the plates, even the air, trembled and rang; outside, too, an enormous, iron, round roar reaching the sky — ﬂoating over heads and houses, it died away in the distance in small, hardly perceptible circles like those upon water.
I saw faces instantaneously grow faded and bleached; I saw mouths ﬁlled with food suddenly motionless, and forks hanging in air. Then everything became confused, jumped off the centuries-old tracks; everybody jumped up from his place (without singing the Hymn!) and confusedly, in disorder, hastily finishing chewing, choking, grasping one another. . . . They were asking: “What? What happened? What? . . .” And the disorderly fragments of the Machine, which was once perfect and great, fell down in all directions — down the elevators, down the stairs. . . . Stamping of feet . . . Pieces of words like pieces of torn letters carried by the wind. . .
The same outpour from the neighboring houses. A minute later the avenue seemed like a drop of water seen under a microscope: the infusoria locked up in the transparent, glass-like drop of water were tossing around, from side to side, up and down.
“Ah!” Someone’s triumphant voice. I saw the back of a neck, and a ﬁnger pointing to the sky. I remember very distinctly a yellowish-pinkish nail, and under the nail a crescent crawling out as if from under the horizon. The ﬁnger was like a compass; all eyes were raised to the sky.
There, running away from invisible pursuit, masses of cloud were rushing upon each other; colored by the clouds, the aeros of the Guardians were ﬂoating with their tube-like antennae. And farther to the west — something like . . . At ﬁrst nobody could understand what it was, even I, who knew (unfortunately) more than the others. It was like a great hive of black aeros swarming somewhere at an extraordinary height — they looked like hardly noticeable, swiftly moving points . . . Nearer and nearer . . . Hoarse, guttural sounds began to reach the earth, and ﬁnally we saw birds just over our heads! They ﬁlled the sky with their sharp, black, descending triangles. The furious wind drove them down, and they began to land on the cupolas, on the roofs, poles, and balconies.
“Ah — ah!” and the triumphant back of the neck turned; again I saw that man with the protruding forehead, but it seemed that the name, so to speak, was all that was left of him: he seemed to have crawled out from under his forehead, and on his face, around the eyes and lips, bunches of rays were growing. Through the noise of the wind and the wings and the cawing he cried to me:
“Do you realize? Do you realize! They have blown up the Wall! The Wall has been blown up! Do you understand?”
Somewhere in the background ﬁgures with their heads drawn in were hastily rushing by and into the houses. In the middle of the pavements was a mass of those who had already been operated upon; they moved toward the west . . .
. . . Hairy bunches of rays around the lips and eyes . . . I grasped his hands:
“Tell me. Where is she? Where is I-330? There? Beyond the Wall, or . . . ? I must . . . Do you hear me? At once …I cannot…”
“Here!” he shouted in a happy, drunken voice, showing strong yellow teeth, “here in town, and she is acting! Oh, we are doing great work!”
Who are those “we”? Who am I?
There were about ﬁfty around him. Like him, they seemed to have crawled out from under their foreheads. They were loud, cheerful, strong-toothed, swallowing the stormy wind. With their simple not at all terrible-looking electrocutors (where did they get them?), they started to the west, toward the operated ones, encircling them, keeping parallel to avenue Forty-eight . . .
Stumbling against the tightly drawn ropes woven by the wind, I was running to her. What for? I did not know. I was stumbling . . . Empty streets . . . The city seemed foreign, wild, ﬁlled with the ceaseless, triumphant hubbub of the birds. It seemed like the end of the world, Doomsday.
Through the glass of the walls in quite a few houses (this cut into my mind), I saw male and female Numbers in shameless embraces — without curtains lowered, without pink checks, in the middle of the day! . . .
The house — her house; the door ajar. The lobby, the control desk, all were empty. The elevator had stopped in the middle of its shaft. I ran panting up the endless stairs. The corridor. Like the spokes of a wheel ﬁgures on the doors dashed past my eyes: 320, 326, 330 — I-330! Through the glass wall I could see everything in her room upside down, confused, creased: the table overturned, its legs in the air like a beast; the bed absurdly placed away from the wall, obliquely; strewn over the floor — fallen, trodden petals of pink checks.
I bent over and picked up one, two, three of them; all bore the name D-503. I was on all of them, drops of myself, of my molten, poured-out self. And that was all — that was left. . .
Somehow I felt they should not lie there on the floor and be trodden upon. I gathered a handful of them, put them on the table, and carefully smoothed them out, glanced at them, and . . . laughed aloud! I never knew it before but now I know — and you, too, know — that laughter may be of different colors. Laughter is but a distant echo of an explosion within us; it may be the echo of a holiday — red, blue, and golden ﬁreworks — or at times it may represent pieces of human ﬂesh exploded into the air. . . .
I noticed an unfamiliar name on some of the pink checks. I do not remember the ﬁgures but I do remember the letter — F. I brushed the stubs from the table to the floor, stepped on them, on myself, stamped on them with my heels — and went out . . .
In the corridor I sat on the window sill in front of her door and waited long and stupidly. An old man appeared. His face was like a pierced, empty bladder with folds; from beneath the puncture something transparent was still slowly dripping. Slowly, vaguely, I realized — tears. And only when the old man was quite far off I came to and exclaimed:
“Please . . . listen. . . .Do you know . . . Number I-330?”
The old man turned around, waved his hand in despair, and stumbled farther away. . . .
I returned home at dusk. On the west side the sky was twitching every second in a pale blue, electric convulsion; a subdued, heavy roar could be heard from that direction. The roofs were covered with black, charred sticks — birds.
I lay down; and instantly, like a heavy beast, sleep came and stifled me. . . .