Mikhail Bulgakov the heart of a dog and other stories


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On black-bordered plates patterned with flowers of paradise lay slivers of thinly cut smoked salmon and pickled eels. On a heavy board there was a lump of very fresh cheese and, in a little silver dish surrounded by ice, caviar. Amongst the plates stood a selection of small, slim glasses and three cut glass decanters with different coloured vodkas. All these objects were arrayed on a small marble table, neatly joined to a huge sideboard of carved oak all agleam with glass and silver. In the middle of the room was the table, heavy as a tombstone, spread with a white cloth, and on it were set two places, napkins starched and folded into the shape of papal tiaras, and three dark bottles.

Zina brought in a covered silver dish in which something was sizzling. The aroma arising from the dish was such that the dog's mouth promptly filled with watery saliva. The Gardens of Semiramis, he thought and thudded his tail on the floor like a stick.

"Bring them here," commanded Philip Philipovich in a resonant voice. "Doctor Bormental, I beg you to be circumspect with the caviar. And if you want good advice, pour yourself not the English but the plain Russian vodka."

The handsome young man he had bitten (now without his smock and dressed in a decent, black suit) shrugged his broad shoulders, permitted himself a polite grin and helped himself to the transparent vodka.

"With the blessing of the state?" he inquired. "How could you, my dear Sir," his host replied. "It's spirit. Darya Petrovna makes excellent vodka herself."

"Don't say so, Philip Philipovich. It's the general opinion that the new state brew is excellent vodka. 30° proof." "Vodka ought to be 40° not 30° that's in the first place," interrupted Philip Philipovich, laying down the law. "And, in the second, one can never tell what they put in it. Can you tell me what might come into their heads?"

"Anything," said the bitten young man with conviction.

"And I am of the same opinion exactly," added Philip Philipovich and emptied the contents of his glass down his throat in one go. "Mm ... Doctor Bormental, I implore you, pass me that thing there immediately, and if you are going to tell me what it is ... I shall be your sworn enemy for the rest of your life. From Seville to Granada..."

With these words he himself speared something resembling a small, dark square of bread with a clawed silver fork. The bitten man followed his example. Philip Philipovich's eyes gleamed.

"Is that bad?" demanded Philip Philipovich, chewing. "Is that bad? Answer me, my dear doctor."

"Superb," replied the bitten man sincerely.

"I should rather say so... Note, Ivan Arnoldovich, that only country squires who have survived the Bolsheviks take cold hors-d'oeuvre and soup with their vodka. Any person with the least self-respect operates with hot hors-d'oeuvre. And of all hot Moscow hors-d'oeuvres, this is the best. They used to prepare them quite splendidly at the Slavyansky Bazar Restaurant. Take it, good dog."

"If you're going to feed that dog in the dining room," a woman's voice sounded, "you'll never get him out again not for love nor money."

"Never mind. The poor fellow's hungry," Philip Philipovich offered the dog one of the savouries on the end of a fork. It was received with the dexterity of a conjuring trick, after which the fork was thrown with a clatter into the fingerbowl.

After this a crayfish-scented steam rose from the dishes; the dog sat in the shadow of the table-cloth with the air of a sentry mounting guard over a store of gunpowder. Philip Philipovich, however, tucking the tail of a starched napkin into his shirt collar, held forth:

"It is not a simple problem, Ivan Arnoldovich. One has to know about food, and — can you imagine? — the majority of people do not. You don't just have to know what to eat, but when and how." Philip Philipovich wagged his spoon pontifically. "And what to talk about. Yes indeed. If you have a care for your digestion, my advice is: avoid the subjects of Bolshevism and medicine at the dinner-table. And whatever you do, don't read the Soviet newspapers before dinner."

"Hm ... but there aren't any other papers."

"That's what I mean, don't read newspapers. You know that I set up thirty experiments in the clinic. And what do you think? The patients who read no newspapers felt fine. The ones whom I especially ordered to read Pravda lost weight."

"Hm..." the bitten man responded with interest, his face flushed from the hot soup and wine.

"And not only that. Weaker reflexes, poor appetite, depression."

"Hell! You don't say!"

"Yes, indeed. But what am I thinking of? Here am I being the first to bring up medicine."

Philip Philipovich, leaning back, rang the bell and from behind the cherry-coloured door-curtain appeared Zina. The dog received a thick, pale piece of sturgeon which he did not like and immediately after that a slice of juicy rare roast beef. Having downed this, the dog suddenly felt that he wanted to sleep and could not bear the sight of any more food. What a queer feeling, he thought, blinking heavy lids, I don't mind if I never set eyes on food again and to smoke after dinner is a stupid thing to do.

The dining room filled up with unpleasant blue smoke. The dog dozed, its head on its front paws.

"Saint-Julien is a decent wine," the dog heard through his sleep. "Only you can't get it any more."

From somewhere above and to the side came the sound of choral singing, softened by ceilings and carpets.

Philip Philipovich rang the bell and Zina came.

"Zina, what does that mean?"

"They've called another general meeting, Philip Philipovich," answered Zina.

"Another one!" Philip Philipovich exclaimed. "Well, I suppose now it's really got under way and the house of Kalabukhov is lost indeed. I'll have to go, but the question is: where to? Everything will go now. At first there'll be a singsong every evening, then the pipes will freeze in the lavatories, then the central heating boiler will burst, etc. And that will be the end of Kalabukhov."

"Philip Philipovich is upset," Zina remarked smiling as she bore off a pile of plates.

"How can I help not being upset?" exploded Philip Philipovich. "What a house it used to be — you must understand!"

"You are too pessimistic, Philip Philipovich," the handsome bitten man replied. "They are very different now, you know."

"My dear Sir, you know me? Do you not? I am a man of fact, a man of observation. I am the enemy of unfounded hypotheses. And that is very well known not only in Russia but in Europe. If I venture an opinion, it is because there is some fact behind it on which I base my conclusions. And here is the fact for you: the coat stand and galoshes rack in our house."


Nonsense — galoshes. There's no joy in galoshes, thought the dog. But he's still an exceptional person.

"If you please we will take the rack. Since 1903 I have been living in this house. All this time until March 1917 there was not a single case — and I underline this in red pencil — not one case that a single pair of galoshes disappeared from our front hall, even though the door was never locked. And note, there are twelve flats here and I receive patients. In March 1917 all the galoshes vanished in a single day, amongst them two pairs of my own, three walking sticks, a coat and the porter's samovar. And that was the end of the galoshes rack. My dear Sir! I won't mention the central heating. I won't mention it. Let us make allowances: when there's a social revolution going on one does without central heating... But I ask you: why, when it all began, did everyone begin to march up and down the marble staircase in their dirty galoshes and felt boots? Why, to this day, do we have to keep our galoshes under lock and key? Why have they removed the carpet from the main staircase? Did Karl Marx forbid us to carpet our staircases? Is it written anywhere in Karl Marx that the 2nd staircase entrance to the Kalabukhov house on Prechistenka Street should be boarded up so that all the inhabitants should have to go round the back through the tradesmen's entrance? Who requires all this? Why can't the proletariat leave its galoshes downstairs, why does it have to dirty the marble?"

"But they don't have galoshes, Philip Philipovich," the bitten man tried to contradict.

"Not so!" roared Philip Philipovich in reply and poured himself a glass of wine. "Hm, I don't approve of liqueurs after dinner; they make one feel heavy and have a bad effect on the liver. Not so at all! They do have galoshes now, and those galoshes are mine. They are precisely those very same galoshes that disappeared in 1917. Who else pinched them, I'd like to know? Did I? Impossible. That bourgeois Sablin? (Philip Philipovich pointed a finger at the ceiling.) The very idea is absurd! The sugar-manufacturer Polozov? (Philip Philipovich pointed to the wall.) Never! It was done by those songbirds up there. Yes, indeed! But if only they would take them off when they go upstairs! (Philip Philipovich began to turn crimson.) And why the hell did they remove the flowers from the landings? Why does the electricity which, if I remember aright, only failed twice in 20 years, now leave us blacked out regularly once a month? Doctor Bormental, statistics are a fearful thing. You, who have read my latest work, know that better than anyone."

"It's the Disruption, Philip Philipovich."

"No," Philip Philipovich contradicted him with the utmost certainty. "You should be the first, dear Ivan Arnoldovich, to refrain from using that particular word. It is a mirage, smoke, fiction." Philip Philipovich spread wide his short fingers so that two shadows resembling tortoises began to wriggle across the table-cloth. "What is this Disruption of yours? An old woman with a staff? A witch who goes round knocking out the window-panes and putting out the lamps? Why, she doesn't exist at all. What do you mean by the word?" demanded Philip Philipovich furiously of the unfortunate cardboard duck suspended legs uppermost by the side-board, and answered for it himself.

"I'll tell you what it means. If I stop doing operations every evening and initiate choir practice in my flat instead, I'll get Disruption. If, when I go to the lavatory, I, if you'll forgive the expression, begin to piss and miss the bowl, and Zina and Darya Petrovna do the same, then we get Disruption in the lavatory. So it follows that Disruption is in the head. So, when all these baritones start calling upon us to 'Beat Disruption', I just laugh." (Philip Philipovich's face twisted into such a terrible grimace that the bitten man's mouth fell open.) "Believe me, I just laugh. It means that every one of them should begin by knocking himself over the head! And when he's whacked out all the hallucinations and begins to clean out the barns — the job he was made for — Disruption will disappear of its own accord. You can't serve two gods! It is impossible at one and the same time to sweep the tram lines and to organise the fate of a lot of Spanish ragamuffins. No one can do that, Doctor, and still less people who are roughly two hundred years behind Europe in their general development and are still none too sure how to button up their own trousers!"

Philip Philipovich was quite carried away. His hawk-like nostrils were extended. Having recuperated his forces thanks to an excellent dinner, he was thundering away like a prophet of olden times, and his hair shone silver.

His words reached the sleepy dog like a dull rumbling from beneath the earth. Now the owl with its stupid yellow eyes leapt out at him in his dream, now the foul face of the chef in his dirty white cap, now the dashing moustache of Philip Philipovich, lit by the harsh electric light from beneath the lampshade, now sleepy sleighs scraped past and disappeared, and in the juice of the dog's stomach floated a chewed piece of roast beef.

He could make money as a speaker at meetings, the dog thought vaguely through his sleep. Talk the hind leg off a donkey, he would. Still, he seems to be made of money as it is.

"The policeman on the beat!" yelled Philip Philipovich. "The policeman!" Oohoo-hoo-hoo! Something in the nature of rising bubbles broke in the dog's mind. "The policeman! That and that only. And it makes no odds whatsoever whether he has a badge on his chest or wears a red cap. Attach a policeman to every single person and let him have orders to control the vocal impulses of the citizens. You say — Disruption. I say to you, Doctor, that nothing will change for the better in our house or in any other house for that matter until such time as they put down those singers! As soon as they give up their concerts, and not before, things will change for the better."

"What counter-revolutionary things you do say, Philip Philipovich," remarked the bitten man jokingly. "It's to be hoped you'll not be overheard."

"No danger to anyone," Philip Philipovich retorted hotly. "No counter-revolution whatsoever, and that, by the way, is another word I simply cannot stand. It is an absolute riddle— what does it imply? The devil alone knows. So I say to you that there is no counter-revolution whatsoever behind my words: just experience of life and common sense."

At this point Philip Philipovich untucked the tail of the brilliantly white unfolded napkin from his collar and, crumpling it, put it down on the table next to his unfinished glass of wine. The bitten man rose to his feet and said: "Merci."

"Just a moment, Doctor!" Philip Philipovich halted him, taking his wallet from a trouser pocket. He narrowed his eyes, counted out some white notes and handed them to the bitten man with the words: "Today, Ivan Arnoldovich, you are owed 40 roubles. Be so good."

The dog's victim thanked him politely and, blushing, thrust the money into the pocket of his jacket.

"Do you not need me this evening, Philip Philipovich?" he asked.

"No, thank you, dear Doctor. We will not do any more today. In the first place, the rabbit has died and, in the second, Aida is on at the Bolshoi. And it's quite a while since I heard it. One of my favourites... Remember? The duet... Tari-ra-rim."

"How do you find the time, Philip Philipovich?" asked the doctor respectfully.

"The person who always finds time is the one who is never in a hurry," explained his host didactically. "Of course, if I began to flutter from meeting to meeting or sing like a nightingale all day long, I wouldn't have time for anything." Under Philip Philipovich's fingers in his pocket a repeater-watch chimed divinely. "Just after eight o'clock... I shall arrive for the second act... I am all for the division of labour. Let them sing at the Bolshoi, and I shall operate. That's how it should be. And no Disruption... Remember, Ivan Arnoldovich, keep a close watch: the moment there is a suitable fatality, off the operating table, into sterilised isotonic saline and round to me!"

"Don't worry, Philip Philipovich, I have a promise from the pathoanatomists."

"Good, and in the meantime we'll keep this nervous wreck from the street under observation. Give his side a chance to heal."

He's taking thought for me, thought the dog. A very good man. I know who he is. He's a magician, one of those wonder workers and conjurors out of dogs' fairy-tales... It can't be that I dreamt it all. What if it is all a dream? (The dog shuddered in his sleep.) I'll wake up and there'll be nothing left. Not the lamp with the silk cover, nor the warmth, nor feeling full. And it'll all start again: that crazy cold under the archway, the icy tarmac, hunger, unkind people... The canteen, snow... Oh God, how miserable I shall be!

But nothing of all this happened. It was the arched gateway that melted away like a foul dream never to return. Evidently the Disruption was not so terrible. In spite of it the grey accordions under the window were filled with heat twice a day and warmth rippled out from them right through the flat.

It was quite clear that the dog had drawn the winning ticket in the dogs' lottery. No less than twice a day now his eyes filled with tears of gratitude to the wise man of Prechistenka. Apart from this, all the glass-fronted cupboards in the drawing-room reflected a successful, handsome dog.

I am a beauty. Perhaps an unknown canine Prince, incognito, thought the dog, surveying the shaggy coffee-coloured hound with the contented face strolling about in the mirrored distances. It is very probable that my grandmother had an affair with a Newfoundland. That's it, I see I have a white patch on my face. Where did that come from, I wonder? Philip Philipovich is a man of excellent taste, he would not take in any old mongrel stray.

In the course of a week, the dog had devoured as much food as in the whole course of his last, hungry month-and-a-half on the street. Only by weight, of course. As to the quality of food in Philip Philipovich's house, there was simply no comparison. Even if one did not count the 18 kopecks worth of scrap meat which Darya Petrovna bought every day from the Smolensk Market, one only need mention the titbits from dinner at 7 o'clock in the dining room, which the dog always attended in spite of the protests of the elegant Zina. During these meals Philip Philipovich had been finally elevated to divine status. The dog sat up and begged and nibbled his jacket; the dog learnt Philip Philipovich's ring at the door (two sharp authoritative stabs at full pitch), and rushed out barking excitedly to meet him in the hall. The master was all wrapped in silver fox fur, glittering with a million tiny snow-flakes, he smelt of tangerines, cigars, scent, lemons, petrol, eau-de-Cologne and cloth, and his voice sounded like a trumpet through the whole flat:

"Why did you tear up that owl, you scoundrel? What harm did it ever do to you? What harm, I'm asking you? Why did you break Professor Mechnikov?"

"Philip Philipovich, he should be given a good hiding, even if only once," Zina declared indignantly. "Or he'll get completely spoilt. Just look what he's done to your galoshes."

"Nobody should ever be given a hiding," Philip Philipovich said warmly. "And don't forget it. People and animals can only be worked upon by suggestion, admonition. Did you give him his meat today?"

"Heavens, he's eating us all out of house and home! How can you ask, Philip Philipovich? I'm surprised he hasn't burst."

"Well, let him eat, bless him... But what did that owl ever do to you, hooligan?"

"Oo-oo!" the toady-dog whimpered and crept up on his stomach, paws spread.

Then he was dragged willy-nilly by the scruff of the neck through the hall into the study. The dog yelped, snapped, dug his claws into the carpet, slid along on his behind as though performing in a circus. In the middle of the study on the carpet lay glass-eyed owl with red rags smelling of mothballs hanging out from its torn stomach. On the table lay the shattered portrait.

"I haven't cleared up on purpose so that you could see for yourself," Zina informed him, thoroughly upset. "He jumped up on the table, you see, the villain! And got it by the tail — snap! Before I knew where I was he'd torn it to bits. Push his face into the owl, Philip Philipovich, so that he knows not to spoil things."

A howl went up. The dog was dragged, still clinging to the carpet, to have his nose pushed into the owl, shedding bitter tears and thinking: Beat me if you like, only don't turn me out of the flat.

"Send the owl to the taxidermist without delay. Besides, here, take 8 roubles and 16 kopecks for the tram, go to the central department store and buy him a good collar and a chain."

The next day the dog was arrayed in a broad, shiny collar. To begin with he was very upset when he saw himself in the mirror, tucked his tail between his legs and went slinking off to the bathroom, meditating on how to rub it off on some chest or crate. Very soon, however, the dog understood that this was simply foolish. Zina took him for a walk on the lead along Obukhov Alley and the dog burnt with shame as he walked like some felon under arrest but, by the time he had walked the length of Prechistenka as far as the Church of Christ the Saviour, he realised what a collar meant in a dog's life. Furious envy was clearly to be seen in the eyes of all the curs they encountered and at Myortvy Alley, a lanky stray who'd lost part of his tail barked ferociously, calling him a "bloody aristo" and a "boot-licker". When they crossed the tram track the militiaman glanced at the collar with pleasure and respect and, when they returned home, the most incredible thing happened: Fyodor the porter opened the front door himself to let in Sharik. At the same time he remarked to Zina:

"My-my, what a shaggy dog Philip Philipovich has acquired. And remarkably fat."

"Not surprising, he eats enough for six", explained Zina, all pink and pretty from the frost.

A collar is as good as a briefcase, the dog joked to himself and, wagging his tail, proceeded on up to the first floor like a gentleman.

Having discovered the true worth of the collar, the dog paid his first visit to the main department of paradise which, up to now, had been strictly forbidden him — to the realm of Darya Petrovna, the cook. The whole flat was not worth one square yard of Darya's realm. Every day flames crackled and threw off sparks in the tiled stove with the black top. The oven crackled. Between crimson pillars burnt the face of Darya Petrovna, eternally condemned to fiery torment and unslaked passion. It shone and shimmered with grease. In the fashionable hair-do—down over the ears, then swept back into a twist of fair hair on the nape of the neck — gleamed 22 artificial diamonds. About the walls golden saucepans hung on hooks and all the kitchen was loud with smells, bubbling and hissing in' closed pots.

"Out!" yelled Darya Petrovna. "Out, you thieving stray! You were all I needed! I'll take the poker to you..."

What's wrong? Now why are you scolding? Ingratiatingly, the dog smiled up at her with half-closed eyes. Now why should you think I'm a thief? Haven't you noticed my collar? And poking his muzzle through the door he crept sideways into the kitchen.

Sharik the dog knew some kind of secret to win people's hearts. In two days' time he was already lying next to the coal-scuttle and watching Darya Petrovna at work. With a long, narrow knife she chopped off the heads and claws of defenceless partridges then, like a furious executioner, cut meat off the bones, gutted the chickens, passed something through the mincing, machine. Meanwhile Sharik was worrying the head of a partridge. From a bowl of milk Darya fished out soaked white bread, mixed it with mincemeat on a wooden board, poured on some cream and then set about shaping meat balls on the same board. The oven hummed as though there was a regular furnace within it and from the saucepan came a great grumbling, bubbling and spitting. The stove door opened with a bang to disclose a terrifying hell in which the flames leapt and shimmered.

In the evenings, the gaping stone jaws lost their fire and, in the window of the kitchen above the white half-curtain, there was a glimpse of the dense and solemn Prechistenka night with a single star. It was damp on the floor of the kitchen, the pots and pans gleamed balefully, dully, and on the table lay a fireman's cap. Sharik lay on the warm stove like a lion on a gate, one ear cocked from curiosity, and looked through the half-open door to Zina's and Darya Petrovna's room where a black-moustached, excited man in a broad leather belt was embracing Darya Petrovna. Her face burned with anguish and passion, all of it, that is, but the indelibly powdered nose. A ray of light illumined a portrait of a man with a black moustache from which was suspended a paper Easter rose.

"Like a demon, you are," Darya Petrovna murmured in the half dark. "Leave off! Zina'll come any moment now. What's got into you, you been having your youth restored too?"

"Don't need to," the man with the black moustache answered hoarsely, almost beside himself. "You're so fiery!"

In the evening, the star over Prechistenka hid behind heavy curtains and, if Aida was not playing at the Bolshoi and there was no meeting of the Аll-Russian Society of Surgeons, the divinity took his place in a deep armchair in the study. There were no ceiling lights. Only one green lamp shone on the table. Sharik lay on the carpet in the shadow and, fascinated, observed terrible things. Human brains floated in a repulsive, caustic and muddy liquid. The divinity's arms, bare to the elbows, were in reddish-brown rubber gloves and the slippery, unfeeling fingers poked amongst the convolutions. Sometimes the divinity armed himself with a small shining knife and carefully cut through the rubbery yellow brains.

"To the sacred shores of the Nile," the divinity hummed quietly to himself, biting his lip and recalling the golden interior of the Bolshoi theatre.

At this time the radiators were at their hottest. The warmth they gave off rose to the ceiling from which it spread down again through the room and brought to life in the dog's coat the last doomed flea to have escaped Philip Philipovich's careful combing. The carpets muffled all sound in the flat. Then, from far away, the front door clanged.

Zina's gone to the cinema, thought the dog, and when she gets back we'll be having supper, I suppose. Today I have reason to believe it will be veal chops!

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