Henbane and Lily of the Valley
Night. Green, orange, blue. The red royal instrument. The yellow dress. Then a brass Buddha. Suddenly it lifted the brass eyelids and sap began to flow from it, from Buddha. Sap also from the yellow dress. Even in the mirror, drops of sap, and from the large bed and from the children’s bed and soon from myself. . . . It is horror, mortally sweet horror! . . .
I woke up. Soft blue light, the glass of the walls, of the chairs, of the table was glimmering. This calmed me. My heart stopped palpitating. Sap! Buddha! How absurd! I am sick, it is clear; I never saw dreams before. They say that to see dreams was a common normal thing with the ancients. Yes, after all, their life was a whirling carousel: green, orange, Buddha, sap. But we, people of today, we know all too well that dreaming is a serious mental disease. I . . . Is it possible that my brain, this precise, clean, glittering mechanism, like a chronometer without a speck of dust on it, is . . . ? Yes, it is, now. I really feel there in the brain some foreign body like an eyelash in the eye. One does not feel one’s whole body, but this eye with a hair in it; one cannot forget it for a second. . . .
The cheerful, crystalline sound of the bell at my head. Seven o’clock. Time to get up. To the right and to the left as in mirrors, to the right and to the left through the glass walls I see others like myself, other rooms like my own, other clothes like my own, movements like mine, duplicated thousands of times. This invigorates me; I see myself as a part of an enormous, vigorous, united body; and what precise beauty! Not a single superﬂuous gesture, or bow, or turn. Yes, this Taylor was undoubtedly the greatest genius of the ancients. True, he did not come to the idea of applying his method to the whole life, to every step throughout the twenty-four hours of the day; he was unable to integrate his system from one o’clock to twenty- four. I cannot understand the ancients. How could they write whole libraries about some Kant and take only slight notice of Taylor, of this prophet who saw ten centuries ahead?
Breakfast was over. The hymn of the United State had been harmoniously sung; rhythmically, four abreast we walked to the elevators, the motors buzzed faintly, and swiftly we went down — down — down, the heart sinking slightly. Again that stupid dream, or some unknown function of that dream. Oh, yes! Yesterday in the aero, then down — down! Well, it is all over, anyhow. Period. It is very fortunate that I was so ﬁrm and brusque with her.
The car of the underground railway carried me swiftly to the place where the motionless, beautiful body of the Integral, not yet spiritualized by ﬁre, was glittering in the docks in the sunshine. With closed eyes I dreamed in formulae. Again I calculated in my mind what was the initial velocity required to tear the Integral away from the earth. Every second the mass of the Integral would change because of the expenditure of the explosive fuel. The equation was very complex, with transcendent ﬁgures. As in a dream I felt, right here in the ﬁrm calculated world, how someone sat down at my side, barely touching me and saying, “Pardon.” I opened my eyes.
At ﬁrst, apparently because of an association with the Integral, I saw something impetuously ﬂying into the distance —a head; I saw pink wing ears sticking out on the sides of it, then the curve of the overhanging back of the head, the double-curved letter S.
Through the glass walls of my algebraic world again I felt the eyelash in my eye. I felt something disagreeable, I felt that today I must . . .
“Certainly, please.” I smiled at my neighbor and bowed.
I saw Number S-4711 glittering on his golden badge (that is why I associated him with the letter S from the very ﬁrst moment: an optical impression which remained unregistered by consciousness). His eyes sparkled, two sharp little drills; they were revolving swiftly, drilling in deeper and deeper. It seemed that in a moment they would drill in to the bottom and would see something that I do not even dare to confess to myself. . . .
That bothersome eyelash became wholly clear to me. S- was one of them, one of the Guardians, and it would be the simplest thing immediately, without deferring, to tell him everything!
“I went yesterday to the Ancient House . . .” My voice was strange, husky, ﬂat — I tried to cough.
“That is good. It must have given you material for some instructive deductions.”
“Yes . . . but . . . You see, I was not alone; I was in the company of I-330, and then . . .”
“I-330? You are fortunate. She is a very interesting, gifted woman; she has a host of admirers.”
But he, too — then during the promenade. . . . Perhaps he is even assigned as her he-Number! No, it is impossible to tell him, unthinkable. This was perfectly clear.
“Yes, yes, certainly, very.” I smiled, more and more broadly, more stupidly, and felt as if my smile made me look foolish, naked.
The drills reached the bottom; revolving continually they screwed themselves back into his eyes. S- smiled double-curvedly, nodded, and slid to the exit.
I covered my face with the newspaper (I felt as if everybody were looking at me), and soon I forgot about the eyelash, about the little drills, about everything, I was so upset by what I read in the paper: “According to authentic information, traces of an organization, which still remains out of reach, have again been discovered. This organization aims at liberation from the beneﬁcial yoke of the State.”
Liberation! It is remarkable how persistent human criminal instincts are! I use deliberately the word “criminal,” for freedom and crime are as closely related as — well, as the movement of an aero and its speed: if the speed of an aero equals zero, the aero is motionless; if human liberty is equal to zero, man does not commit any crime. That is clear. The way to rid man of criminality is to rid him of freedom. No sooner did we rid ourselves of freedom (in the cosmic sense centuries are only a “no sooner”) than suddenly some unknown pitiful degenerates. . . . No, I cannot understand why I did not go immediately yesterday to the Bureau of Guardians. Today, after sixteen o’clock, I shall go without fail.
At sixteen-ten I was in the street; at once I noticed O-90 at the corner; she was all rosy with delight at the encounter. She has a simple, round mind. A timely meeting; she would understand and lend me support. Or, no, I did not need any support; my decision was ﬁrm.
The pipes of the Musical Tower thundered, Out harmoniously the March — the same daily March. How wonderful the charm of this dailiness, of this constant repetition and mirror — like smoothness!
“Out for a walk?” Her round blue eyes opened toward me widely, blue windows leading inside; I penetrate there unhindered; there is nothing in there, I mean nothing foreign, nothing superﬂuous.
“No, not for a walk. I must go.” I told her where. And to my astonishment I saw her rosy round mouth form a crescent with the horns downward as if she tasted something sour. This angered me.
“You she-Numbers seem to be incurably eaten up by prejudices. You are absolutely unable to think abstractly. Forgive me the word, but this I call bluntness of mind.”
“You? . . . to the spies? How ugly! And I went to the Botanical Garden and brought you a branch of lily of the valley . . .”
“Why ‘and I’? Why this ‘and’? Just like a woman!”
Angrily (this I must confess), I snatched the ﬂowers. “Here they are, your lilies of the valley. Well, smell them! Good? Yes? Why not use a little bit of logic? The lilies of the valley smell good; all right! But you cannot say about an odor, about the conception of an odor, that it is good or bad, can you? You can’t, can you? There is the smell of lilies of the valley, and there is the disagreeable smell of henbane. Both are odors. The ancient States had their spies; we have ours . . . yes, spies! I am not afraid of words. But is it not clear to you that there the spies were henbane; here they are lilies of the valley? Yes, lilies of the valley. Yes!”
The rosy crescent quivered. Now I understand that it was only my impression, but at that moment I was certain she was going to laugh. I shouted still louder:
“Yes, lilies of the valley! And there is nothing funny about it, nothing funny!”
The smooth round globes of heads passing by were turning toward us. O-90 gently took my hand.
“You are so strange today . . . are you ill?”
My dream. . . . Yellow color.,. . . Buddha. . . . It was at once borne clearly upon me that I must go to the Medical Bureau.
“Yes, you are right, I am sick,” I said with joy (that seems to me an inexplicable contradiction; there was nothing to be joyful about).
“You must go at once to the doctor. You understand that; you are obliged to be healthy; it seems strange to have to prove it to you.”
“My dear O-, of course you are right. Absolutely right.”
I did not go to the Bureau of Guardians; I could not; I had to go to the Medical Bureau; they kept me there until seventeen o’clock.
In the evening (incidentally, the Bureau of Guardians is closed evenings) — in the evening O- came to see me. The curtains were not lowered. We busied ourselves with the arithmetical problems of an ancient textbook. This occupation always calms and puriﬁes our thoughts. O- sat over her notebook, her head slightly inclined to the left; she was so assiduous that she poked out her left cheek with the tongue from within. She looked so childlike, so charming. . . . I felt everything in me was pleasant, precise, and simple.
She left. I remained alone. I breathed deeply two times (it is very good exercise before retiring for the night). Suddenly — an unexpected odor reminiscent of something very disagreeable! I soon found out what was the matter: a branch of lily of the valley was hidden in my bed. Immediately everything was aroused again, came up from the bottom. Decidedly, it was tactless on her part to put these lilies of the valley there surreptitiously. Well, true I did not go; I didn’t, but was it my fault that I had felt indisposed?