"Cardinal Points" litetrary journal: www.stosvet.net

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MIKHAIL ZOSHCHENKO
THREE STORIES


Translated by Robert Chandler

DOGGED

Someone went off with merchant Yeremey Babkin's coonskin coat.
Yeremey Babkin let out a howl. He was upset, you see, about his coat.
'Citizens,' he says, 'that was a damned good coat. I'm upset. Cost what it may, I shall find the criminal. I'll spit in his face.'
So Yeremey Babkin called out a police sniffer dog. A man turns up in a peaked cap and puttees. With a dog. Or rather a damned great hound. Brown, a sharp snout, and none too friendly. The man pushed this dog of his towards some footprints by the door, said Pst, and stood back. The dog sniffed the air, looked round the crowd (a crowd, of course, had gathered), then goes straight up to Granny Fyokla from number five and sniffs the hem of her skirt.
Fyokla goes to the back of the crowd — the dog goes for her skirt. Fyokla tries to slip away — the dog follows. Grabs her by the skirt and doesn't let go.
Fyokla sank to her knees before the officer.
'Yes,' she says, 'I'm guilty. Can't deny it. Five tubs of yeast,' she says, 'yes. And a still — it's all true. Everything,' she says, 'is in the bathroom. Arrest me.'
The crowd, of course, gasped.
'But what about the coat?' they ask.
'About the coat,' she says, 'I know nothing at all. But everything else,' she says, 'is like I've said. Take me away. Execute punishment.'
So Fyokla was taken away.
The detective got hold of his hound again, pushed its nose at the footprints again, said Pst, and stood back.
The dog looked round, sniffed empty air — and goes up to the citizen house manager.
The house manager went white, he fell flat on his back.
'Tie me up,' he says, 'good people. Class-conscious citizens,' he says, 'I took money off you for water,' he says, 'but I spent that money on pleasure.'
So, of course, the tenants leapt on the house manager and began tying him up. The hound, meanwhile, goes up to the citizen from room seven. And tugs at his trousers.
The citizen went white, he fell down before the people.
'Guilty,' he says. 'Yes, I'm guilty. I fiddled my year of birth,' he says, 'in my labour record. A young colt like me,' he says, 'should be serving in the army, defending the fatherland, but here I am in room seven, making use of electrical energy and other communal services. Arrest me!'
People began to get flustered.
'This dog,' they think, 'is amazing!'
And merchant Yeremey Babkin blinked, looked round, took some money out of his pocket and handed it to the detective.
'To Hell,' he says, 'with your son of a bitch. Get that dog out of here. Who cares about a coonskin coat?'
But the hound was onto him. Standing in front of him. Tail twitching.
Merchant Yeremey Babkin got flustered. He tries to get away, but the dog follows. Goes up to him and sniffs his galoshes.
The merchant went pale, he began to stammer.
'Well,' he says, 'it seems God sees the truth. I'm a bastard,' he says, 'and a cheat. As for the coat, my friends, it's not my coat at all. I pinched that coat off my brother. I'm crying, I weep and shed tears.'
The crowd fled this way and that way. The hound had no time to sniff. Just seized two or three people at once — whoever was closest — and hung on.
They confessed. One had lost state funds at cards, another had done his spouse in with a flatiron, a third said things I'd be ashamed to repeat.
The crowd was gone. The place had emptied. There was just the dog and the detective.
All of a sudden the dog goes up to the detective. Twitches its tail.
The detective goes pale, he falls down before the dog.
'Bite me,' he says, 'citizen dog. I get thirty roubles a day for your dog food, but I keep twenty back for myself...'
After that, I don't know. I got out of harm's way. Quick.

First published 1924

SIMPLICITY OF SOUL

Perhaps you remember when the Negroes visited. Last year. A black minstrel company.
Those Negroes were really extremely happy with our hospitality. Yes, they really praised our culture and all our undertakings in general.
The only thing they weren't happy about was how we move around on the streets.
'It's hard,' they kept saying, 'to get about. Everybody pushes and shoves and treads on your heels.'
Well, these Negroes, of course, have been spoiled by European civilisation and they're well and truly, how can I put it, out of practice. Give them a couple of years here and they'll lose their rough edges and be treading on everyone's feet themselves. And that's a fact.
Still, we do tread on feet. There's no getting away from it. We have that failing.
But it only happens, I want to tell the Negroes, because of our simplicity of soul. There's no malice aforethought. You tread on a foot — and walk on. Simple as that.
The other day I myself trod on a citizen's foot. The citizen, you see, was walking down the street. A broad-shouldered, strong-looking lad.
He walks and walks. I walk behind him. And he walks in front. Just a step away.
And we're walking along, you know, very nicely. Correctly. Not treading on one another's feet. Not flinging our arms about. He walks. And I walk. We really aren't, you could say, bothering one another at all. We're in step. Our souls, in a word, in tune. Joy in our hearts.
And I think:
'The man's walking splendidly. Evenly. Not kicking about. Anyone else would be getting under your feet, but he strides calmly forward.'
And all of a sudden, I don't know why, I was gazing at some beggar. Or maybe cabdriver.
And, as I was gazing at this beggar, I trod with all my weight on the foot of my friend in front. On his heel. And just above.
I trod on his foot, I have to say, seriously. With all possible force.
And for a moment I even froze in fear.
I stopped.
I even — I was so startled — didn't say 'sorry'.
This dear man, I thought, will turn round and take a swing at me. He'll belt me one on the ear: 'Walk normally, mutton-head!'
I froze, I tell you, in fear. I got ready to endure due punishment. And then — nothing.
On he walked. This dear citizen didn't so much as look at me. Didn't turn his head. Not so much, I say, as a flick of the leg. On he walked. Meek as a lamb.
As I've said, this kind of thing happens. But there's no malice. Only simplicity of soul. Tread on someone, be trodden on by someone — just keep on walking. What does it matter?
And this dear man, I promise you, never so much as turned round.
I followed him a long time. I kept thinking he'd turn round and give me a stern look. No. He just walked on. He'd never noticed.

First published 1927

THE HAT

Only now can one totally understand and grasp the great strides with which, in the last ten years, we have advanced forward.
Take any aspect of our life - nothing to be seen but total development and happy success.
And I, my brothers, as a former transport worker, can see very evidently what, for instance, has been achieved on this really rather important front.
Trains run backwards and forwards. Rotten sleepers are removed. Signals are repaired. Whistles give the right whistles. Travelling has become truly pleasant and satisfactory.
Whereas in the past! Back in 1918! You travelled, you travelled, and then - total standstill. And the engine driver, up at the head of the train, is shouting: 'Brothers! Come here!'
So the passengers gather.
And the driver says to them:
'I'm afraid I can't, brothers, for reasons of fuel, keep going. Those of you with an interest in further travel,' he says, 'should jump down from your carriages. And run along into the forest to collect firewood.'
Well, the passengers aren't too happy. They fuss and grumble about this kind of new innovation, but soon enough they're deep in the forest. Chopping and sawing.
They saw up a yard of firewood and we move off. The wood, needless to say, is green. Hisses like hell and our progress is halting.
And I remember another incident. In 1919. We were moving modestly along towards Leningrad . . . We stop in the middle of nowhere. Then - reverse drive. And we come to a standstill.
The passengers ask:
'Why have we stopped? And why all that way in reverse? Do we, dear God, need firewood? Is the driver looking for birch trees? Is it an upsurge of banditry?'
The fireman explains:
'There's been an unfortunate incident. The driver's hat's blown off. He's gone to look for it.'
Passengers got off the train. Settled down on the embankment.
Suddenly they see the driver, coming out of the forest. Downcast. Pale. Shrugging his shoulders.
'No,' he says. 'I can't find it. The devil knows where it's blown.'
They move the train back another five hundred yards. The passengers are divided into search parties.
About twenty minutes later some man with a sack shouts out:
'Here it is, you devils! Look!'
And there it is. The engine driver's hat. Hanging up on a bush.
The driver put his hat on, tied it with string to one of his buttons so it wouldn't blow off again, and began getting up steam.
And half an hour later we were safely on our way.
Yes. Transport was in a totally bad state.
But today, even if a passenger - let alone a mere hat - were blown off, we wouldn't stop more than a minute.
Because time is precious. We must keep moving.

First published 1927


Translated from Russian by Robert Chandler