Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories



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Oo-oo-oo-woo-woo-woo-hoo-oo! Look at me, look, I'm dying. The wind under the archway howls at my departing, and I howl with it. I'm done for, done for. That villain in a cook's hat — the chef at the canteen of Normative Nourishment for the employees of the Central Council of the People's Economy — splashed boiling water at me and scalded my left side. Swine that he is, and him a proletarian. Oh, my God, how it hurts. That boiling water's seared me to the bone. And now I howl and howl, but what's the use of howling...

What harm did I ever do him? Surely I won't eat the Council of the People's Economy out of house and home just by poking around in the rubbish? The greedy, grudging beast! Just take a look at his face some time; it's wider than it's long. A thief with a mug like copper. Ah, good people! It was midday he gave me the boiling water treatment and now it's dark, four o'clock in the afternoon or thereabouts, to judge by the smell of onion from the Prechistenka fire brigade. The firemen have buckwheat for supper, as you know. But that's the pits, as bad as mushrooms. Some dogs I know from Prechistenka, by the way, told me that in the restaurant Bar on Neglinny Alley the plat-du-jour is mushrooms in sauce-piquante at 3 roubles 75 kopecks per portion. An acquired taste — like licking galoshes. Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo...

My side hurts unbearably and my future prospects are only too clear; tomorrow I'll be all sores and what, I ask, am I to do about that? In summer you can sneak off to Sokolniki Park, there's a special kind of grass there, very good for you, and apart from that you can stuff yourself for free with salami-ends and lick your fill from the greasy paper folk scatter about. And if it wasn't for the cattawauler who stands on that round platform in the moonlight and sings Beloved Aida to turn your stomach it would be really first rate. But where can you go now? Have you been booted up the rump? You have. Have you had your ribs dented by bricks? Often enough. I've had everything and I'm resigned to my fate and if I'm crying now it's only because I'm in pain and cold, but my spirit's not fizzled out altogether ... a dog's spirit dies hard.

This body of mine, though, it's all broken, all beaten, people have committed just about every outrage you can think of on it. The main thing is that when the boiling water hit me it ate through my coat and there's absolutely no protection for my left side. I may easily get pneumonia and once that happens, citizens, I'll die of hunger. The proper thing to do if you have pneumonia is to lie under the main stairway at the front entrance, but then who will go out scavenging for me, a bedridden bachelor? It'll get on my lung, I'll crawl about for a while on my stomach getting weaker and weaker, then any toff who happens along will finish me off with a stick. And those janitors with the badges on their chests will take me by the legs and fling me out on the rubbish cart...

Of all the proletariat janitors are the most vile filth. Human refuse of the basest sort. Chefs vary. Take Vlas — the late Vlas from Prechistenka Street. The lives he saved! Because the most important thing when you are ill is to get hold of a bite to eat, and it could happen, or so the old dogs say, that Vlas would throw you a bone, and with 50 grammes of meat on it. God rest his soul for the real character that he was, a gentleman's cook from the establishment of the Counts Tolstoy, not from the Council of Normative Nourishment. The things they get up to there in Normative Nourishment — it's beyond the mind of dog to understand. They put putrid salt meat in the cabbage soup, you know, and those poor wretched customers of theirs know nothing about it. They come running, gobble it, lap it up.

There's one typist, for instance, gets a category 9 salary of 45 roubles and if you must know her lover gives her Persian thread stockings. But what she has to put up with for those stockings! He doesn't do it the normal way but subjects her to French-style lovemaking. Nasty bits of work, those Frenchmen, between you and me. Even if they do eat well, and everything with red wine. Yes ... that little typist comes running. You can't afford the Bar on 45 a month, you know. She hasn't even enough for the cinema and the cinema is woman's one comfort in this life. She shudders, screws up her eyes, but she eats... And just think of it. Two courses for 40 kopecks and both courses aren't worth more than 15 as the other 25 kopecks have been syphoned off by the senior catering officer. And is that the sort of thing she should be eating? The top of her right lung isn't all that it should be, she has some female disease because of all that French business, they docked her wages at work and now they're feeding her rotten meat at the canteen, there she goes, there she goes ... running under the archway in her lover's stockings. Her legs are cold, there's draughts all around her stomach because she's got no more hair on it than I have and those panties of hers have no warmth in them, pure illusion, lace-trimmed. Tatters for the lover-boy. If she tried wearing flannel knickers he'd yell: "You're so inelegant. I'm sick of my Matryona, I'm fed up with flannel knickers, from now on things are going to go my way. Now I'm Chairman and however much I steal it all goes on the female body, on chocolates, on Crimean champagne. Because I did my stint in the hungry brigade when I was young, enough is enough, and there is no life beyond the grave."

I'm sorry for her, very sorry! But not so sorry as I am for myself. I'm not being selfish, oh, no, but there really is no comparison. At least for her it's warm at home, but for me, for me... Where can I go? Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo!

"Pup-pup-pup! Sharik, hey, Sharik ... why are you howling, poor thing? Who's been unkind to you? Ooh!.."

That witch, the blizzard, rushed clanging into the gates and caught the young girl over the ear with her broom. It whirled up her brief skirt to show her knees in their cream-coloured stockings and a narrow strip of ill-washed, lacy underclothes, swept away her words and powdered the dog with dry snow.

Good Lord ... what weather... Ooh ... and what a pain in the stomach. It's the salt meat, the salt meat! And when will all this end?

Lowering her head, the girl went over to the offensive and battled her way out through the gates. Once in the open street she was whirled around and around, thrown this way and that, sent spinning in snow-spiral — and vanished.

But the dog remained under the archway and, in pain from his mutilated side, pressed up against the cold wall, scarcely breathing and firmly resolved not to move from this place but to die where he lay, under the entrance-arch. Despair had brought him low. He felt so miserable and bitter, so lonely and afraid, that small canine teardrops like white spots welled from his eyes and dried without falling. His disfigured side was all cavernous hollows and frozen lumps, between which showed the ugly red patches of scalded skin. How unthinking are chefs, how dull-witted and cruel. "Sharik," she had called him... Like hell he was a "Sharik". A Sharik is something round and well-nourished, stupid, eats porridge, the son of distinguished parents, whereas he was shaggy, lank and tattered, a skinny vagrant, a homeless cur. Still, thanks for the kind words.

The door leading into the brightly-lit shop across the road banged and from it there emerged a citizen. A citizen, note, and not a comrade — or even, to be still more precise, a gentleman. The nearer he came the more clearly was this to be seen: a gentleman. You think I judge by the coat? Nonsense. Many people, even from the proletariat, wear overcoats nowadays. True, the collars aren't what they were, there's no getting away from that, but still it's quite possible to confuse them at a distance. It's by the eyes you can tell — from afar and close up. Oh, eyes are very important. Something like a barometer. You can see everything — who has a great drought in his soul, who is likely to put the toe of his boot to your ribs for no good reason, who is himself afraid of everyone and everything. It's the ankles of the last type one really enjoys taking a snap at. You're afraid — take that. If you're afraid — you deserve ... gr-r-r ... gruff ... wuff...

The gentleman walked confidently straight through the pillar of snow whipped up by the blizzard and advanced upon the archway. Yes, yes, it was quite clear the sort of man he was. You wouldn't catch him eating rotten salt meat, and if anyone should happen to serve him such a thing he would make a real fuss, write to the newspapers: I, Philip Philipovich, have been served indigestible food.

There he came, nearer and nearer. That was a man who ate well and did not have to steal, a man who would not kick you but would not be afraid either, and would not be afraid because he always had enough to eat. He was a gentleman who earned his living by intellectual work; he had a pointed French beard and a grey, downy, dashing moustache such as the French knights of old used to have, but the smell wafting from him on the blizzard was a bad smell: hospitals. And cigars.

What ill wind, one wondered, was blowing him into the Cooperative of the People's Economy? Here he is, right here... What's he after? Oo-oo-oo-oo... What could he have bought in that rotten little shop? Weren't the posh Okhotny Ryad shops (1) enough for him? What was that? Sa-la-mi. Sir, if you had only seen what that salami is made of you would not have gone near that shop! Give it to me.

The dog made one last effort and, in his madness, crawled out from the archway onto the pavement. The stormwind went off like a gun above his head, flapping the huge lettering on a canvas sign. "Is it possible to restore youth?"

Of course it was possible. The smell restored mine, got me up from my belly, the smell that sent hot waves to contract a stomach empty for the last forty-eight hours, the smell that overpowered the stink of hospital, the blissful smell of chopped horse-meat, garlic and pepper. I feel it, I know it — in the left pocket of his fur coat there is a stick of salami. He is above me now. Oh, my sovereign! Look down upon me. I perish. What slavish souls we have, what an ignoble lot is ours!

The dog crept on like a serpent on his stomach, tears raining from his eyes. Take note of what that chef did to me. But of course it will never enter your head to give it to me. Okh, I know very well what rich people are like. But when you come to think of it — what good is it to you? What do you want with a bit of putrid horse? Poison like that's not to be gotten ... from any place but Mosselprom (2). And you surely breakfasted today, you who are a great man of world importance all thanks to the glands in the male sexual organ. Oo-oo-oo-oo... Whatever is happening to the world? It would seem it's early days yet to die and that despair really is a sin. Lick his hands, what else can I do.

The mysterious gentleman bent over the dog and, the golden frames of his eyes flashing, pulled from his right-hand pocket a long, white packet. Without removing his brown gloves, he undid the paper, which was immediately seized by the blizzard, and broke off a piece of the salami, known as "Cracow special". And gave that piece to the dog. Oh, generous personage! Oo-oo-oo!

"Phew-phew," the gentleman whistled and added sternly, "Take! Sharik, Sharik!"

Sharik again. What a name to give me, still, call me what you will ... for such a unique act of kindness.

The dog ripped through the skin instantaneously and with a gasp sunk his teeth into the Cracow delicacy and downed it before you could count up to two. He choked on salami and snow to the point of tears, almost swallowing the string in his avidity. I am ready to lick your hand again and again. I kiss the hem of your trousers, my benefactor!

"That'll do for now..." the gentleman spoke abruptly, in a tone of command. He bent over Sharik, looked searchingly into the dog's eyes and unexpectedly passed his gloved hand over Sharik's stomach in an intimate, caressing gesture.

"Aha," he pronounced significantly. "No collar, splendid, just what I need. Come with me," he snapped his fingers. "Phew-phew!"

Come with you? To the end of the world! You can kick me with those felt half-boots and I'll never say a word.

All along Prechistenka the street-lights were shining. The scalded flank hurt unbearably but Sharik sometimes even forgot about it, possessed by one single thought: how not to lose the wondrous apparition in the fur coat in the bustle and how best to express his love and devotion to it. Seven or more times on the way along Prechistenka to Obukhov Alley he did express it. He kissed his boot. Then, at the corner of Myortvy Alley, where the crowd got in their way, he set up such a wild howling that he frightened a lady into sitting on a rubbish bin, after which he once or twice emitted a small whimper to sustain the compassionate attitude.

A villainous stray cat masquerading as a Siberian sprang out from behind a drainpipe, having caught a whiff of the salami. The world went dark for Sharik at the thought that the rich eccentric with a penchant for collecting wounded dogs in gateways might equally well string this thief along with him, and that then he would have to share the delicacy from Mosselprom. For this reason he gnashed his teeth at the cat to such effect that it shinned up the drainpipe as far as the third floor, hissing like a leaking hose. Fr-r-r... Wuff! Be off! The whole of Mosselprom can't provide enough to feed all the tramps on Prechistenka.

The gentleman appreciated this show of devotion and, just by the fire station, beneath a window from which issued the pleasant murmuring of a clarinet, he rewarded the dog with another piece, not quite so big this time.

Funny fellow! Luring me on. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. I'll follow you wherever you say.

"Phew-phew-phew! Here! Here!"

Down Obukhov? With pleasure. We are very well acquainted with this alley.

Phew-phew! Here? With pleas... Oh, no, you don't! No. There's a uniformed porter at the door. And there's nothing worse than that in the whole world. Many times more dangerous than a janitor. An altogether loathsome breed. More repulsive even than cats.

"Don't be afraid, come on."

"Good day, Philip Philipovich."

"Good day, Fyodor."

Now that is a Somebody. My God, who have you landed me onto, me and my dog's life. What kind of a Somebody is this who can lead dogs from the street past a porter into a block of cooperative flats? Just look at him, the creep — not a word, not a movement! True — his eyes are a bit threatening, but on the whole he's indifferent under that cap with the gold braid. Just as if it were all in the nature of things. He's full of respect, gentlemen, and such respect! All right then, I am with him and following him. See? Put that in your pipe and smoke it. It would be good to take a snap at that proletarian horny foot. For all the times the likes of you have tormented me. How many times have you made a mess of my muzzle with your broom, eh?

"Here. Here."

We understand, we understand, pray do not worry. Where you go, we will follow. Just lead the way and I'll keep up somehow, in spite of my injured flank.

Down from the stairway:

"No letters for me, Fyodor?"

Respectfully, from below stairs: "No, Sir, no, Philip Philipovich." (Confidentially in a soft voice after him.) "There're new residents — comrades from the house management committee been put into Flat Three."

The distinguished benefactor of stray curs spun round on the stair and, leaning out over the banister, inquired on a note of horror:

"Well?"

His eyes grew round and his moustache bristled.


The porter below threw back his head, raised his palm to his mouth and confirmed:

"Yes, indeed, Sir, four of them, no less."

"Good God! I can imagine what will happen to the flat now. What are they doing there?"

"Nothing special, Sir."

"And Fyodor Pavlovich?"

"Gone to get screens and bricks. Going to make partitions."

"I don't know what the world's coming to!"

"They're going to put people in all the flats except for yours, Philip Philipovich. There's just been a meeting. They've elected a new committee and thrown out the old one."

"The things that go on. Dear me, dear me... Phew! Phew!"

I'm coming as quick as I can. My flank is so sore, you see. Permit me to lick your boot.

The porter's gold braid disappeared below us. There was a draft of warm air from the central heating on the marble landing, we took one more turn and there we were on the landing of the first floor.




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