All this was like the last crystal of salt thrown into a saturated solution; quickly, needle-like crystals began to appear, to grow more substantial and solid. It was all clear to me; the decision was made, and tomorrow morning I shall do it! It amounts to suicide, but perhaps then I shall be reborn. For only what is killed can be reborn.
Every second the sky twitched convulsively there in the west. My head was burning and pulsating inside; I was up all night, and I fell asleep only at about seven o’clock in the morning, when the darkness of the night was already dispelled and becoming gray, and the roofs crowded with birds became visible . . .
I woke up; ten o’clock. Evidently the bell did not ring today. On the table — left from yesterday — stood the glass of water. I gulped the water eagerly and I ran; I had to do it quickly, as quickly as possible. .
The sky was deserted, blue, all eaten up by the storm. Sharp corners of shadows . . . Everything seemed to be cut out of blue autumnal air — thin, dangerous to touch; it seemed so brittle, ready to disperse into glass dust. Within me something similar; I must not think; it was dangerous to think, for . . .
And I did not think, perhaps I did not even see properly; I only registered impressions. There on the pavement, thrown from somewhere, branches were strewn; their leaves were green, amber, and cherry-red. Above, crossing each other, birds and aeros were tossing about. Here below heads, open mouths, hands waving branches . . . All this must have been shouting, buzzing, chirping . . .
Then — streets empty as if swept by a plague. I remember I stumbled over something disgustingly soft, yielding yet motionless. I bent down — a corpse. It was lying ﬂat, the legs apart. The face . . . I recognized the thick Negro lips, which even now seemed to sprinkle with laughter. His eyes, ﬁrmly screwed in, laughed into my face. One second . . . I stepped over him and ran: I could no longer . . . I had to have everything done as soon as possible, or else I felt I would snap, I would break in two like an overloaded sail . . .
Luckily it was not more than twenty steps away; I already saw the sign with the golden letters: “The Bureau of Guardians.” At the door I stopped for a moment to gulp down as much air as I could, and I stepped in.
Inside, in the corridor, stood an endless chain of Numbers, holding small sheets of paper and heavy notebooks. They moved slowly, advancing a step or two and stopping again. I began to be tossed about along the chain; my head was breaking to pieces. I pulled them by the sleeves, I implored them as a sick man implores to be given something that would, even at the price of sharpest pain, end everything forever.
A woman with a belt tightly clasped around her waist and with two distinctly protruding, squatty hemispheres tossing about as if she had eyes on them, chuckled at me:
“He has a bellyache! Show him to the room second door to the right!”
Everybody laughed, and because of that laughter something rose in my throat; I felt I would either scream or . . . or . . .
Suddenly from behind me someone touched my elbow. I turned around. Transparent wing ears! But they were not pink as usual; they were purplish red; his Adam’s apple was tossing about as though ready to tear the covering . . .
Quickly boring into me: “What are you here for?”
I seized him.
“Quickly! Please! Quickly! . . . into your ofﬁce . . . I must tell everything . . . right away . . . I am glad that you . . . It may be terrible that it should be you to whom . . . But it is good, it is good. . . .”
He, too, knew her; this made it even more tormenting for me. But perhaps he, too, would tremble when he heard . . . And we would both be killing . . . And I would not be alone at that, my supreme second . . .
The door closed with a slam. I remember a piece of paper was caught beneath the door, and it rustled on the floor when the door closed. And then a strange, airless silence covered us as if a glass bell had been put over us. If only he had uttered a single, most insigniﬁcant word, no matter what, I would have told him everything at once. But he was silent. So keyed up that I heard a noise in my ears, I said without looking at him:
“I think I always hated her from the very beginning . . . I struggled . . . Or, no, no, don’t believe me; I could have, but I did not want to save myself. I wanted to perish; this was dearer to me than anything else . . . and even now, even this minute, when I already know everything . . . Do you know that I was summoned to the Well-Doer?”
“Yes, I do.”
“But what he told me! Please realize that it was equivalent to . . . it was as if someone should remove the floor from under you this minute, and you and everything here on the desk, the papers, the ink . . . the ink would splash out and cover everything with blots . . .”
“What else? What further? Hurry up, others are waiting!”
Then, stumbling, muttering, I told him everything that is recorded in these pages . . . About my real self, and about my hairy self, and about my hands . . . yes . . . exactly, that was the beginning . . . And how I lied to myself, and how she obtained false certiﬁcates for me, and how I grew worse and worse, every day, and about the long corridors underground, and there beyond the Wall . . .
All this I threw out in forrnless pieces and lumps. I would stutter and fail to ﬁnd words. The lips double- curved in a smile would prompt me with the word I needed, and I would nod gratefully: “Yes, yes!” . . . Suddenly, what was it? He was talking for me, and I only listened and nodded: “Yes, yes,” and then, “Yes, exactly so, …yes,yes…”
I felt cold around my mouth as though it were wet with ether, and I asked with difficulty:
“But how is it . . . You could not learn anywhere . . .”
He smiled a smile growing more and more curved; then:
“But I see that you do want to conceal something from me. For example, you enumerated everything you saw beyond the Wall, but you failed to mention one thing. You deny it? But don’t you remember that once, just in passing, just for a second, you saw me there? Yes, yes, me!”
Suddenly, like a ﬂash of lightning, it became shamelessly clear to me: he — he, too — And everything about myself, my torment, all that I had brought here, crushed by the burden, plucking up my last strength as if performing a great feat, all appeared to me only funny — like the ancient anecdote about Abraham and Isaac: Abraham all in a cold sweat, with the knife already raised over his son, over himself, and suddenly a voice from above: “Never mind . . . I was only joking.”
Without taking my eyes from the smile that grew more and more curved, I put my hands on the edge of the desk and slowly, very slowly pushed myself with my chair away from him. Then instantly gathering myself into my own hands, I dashed madly out, past loud voices, past , steps and mouths .
I do not remember how I got into one of the public rest rooms, in a station of the Underground Railway. Above, everything was perishing; the greatest civilization, the most rational in human history was crumbling, but here, by some irony, everything remained as before, beautiful. The walls shone; water murmured cozily; and like the water, the unseen, transparent music . . . Only think of it! All this is doomed; all this will be covered with grass someday; only myths will remain . . .
I moaned aloud. At the same instant I felt someone gently patting my knee. It was from the left; it was my neighbor who occupied a seat on my left — an enormous forehead, a bald parabola, yellow, unintelligible lines of wrinkles on his forehead, those lines about me.
“‘I understand you. I understand completely,” he said. “Yet you must calm yourself. You must. It will return. It will inevitably return. It is only important that everybody should learn of my discovery. You are the ﬁrst to whom I talk about it. I have calculated that there is no inﬁnity! Nol”
I looked at him wildly.
“Yes, yes, I tell you so. There is no inﬁnity. If the universe is inﬁnite, then the average density of matter must equal zero; but since we know it is not zero, therefore the universe is ﬁnite; it is spherical in form, and the square of its radius — R2 —is equal to the average density multiplied by . . .The only thing left is to calculate the numerical coefﬁcient and then . . . Do you realize what it means? It means that everything is ﬁnal, everything is simple . . . But you, my honored sir, you disturb me, you prevent my ﬁnishing my calculations by your yelling!”
I do not know which shattered me more, his discovery, or his positiveness at that apocalyptic hour. Only then did I notice that he had a notebook in his hands, and a logarithmic dial. I understood then that even if everything was perishing it was my duty (before you, my unknown and beloved) to leave these records in a ﬁnished form.
I asked him to give me some paper, and here in the rest room, to the accompaniment of the quiet music, transparent like water, I wrote down these last lines.
I was about to put down a period as the ancients would put a cross over the caves into which they used to throw, their dead, when all of a sudden my pencil trembled and fell from between my ﬁngers . . .
“Listen!” I pulled my neighbor. “Yes, listen, I say. There, where your ﬁnite universe ends, what is there? What?”
He had no time to answer. From above, down the steps stamping . . .