Invisible and free! Reaching the end of her street, Margarita turned
sharp right and flew on down a long, crooked street with its plane trees and
its patched roadway, its oil-shop with a warped door where they sold
kerosene by the jugful and the bottled juice of parasites. Here Margarita
discovered that although she was invisible, free as air and thoroughly
enjoying herself, she still had to take care. Stopping herself by a miracle
she just avoided a lethal collison with an old, crooked lamp-post. As she
swerved away from it, Margarita gripped her broomstick harder and flew on
more slowly, glancing at the passing signboards and electric cables.
The next street led straight to the Arbat. By now she had thoroughly
mastered the business of steering her broom, having found that it answered
to the slightest touch of her hands or legs and that when flying around the
town she had to be very careful to avoid collisions. It was now quite
obvious that the people in the street could not see her. Nobody turned their
head, nobody shouted' Look, look! ', nobody stepped aside, nobody screamed,
fell in a faint or burst into laughter.
Margarita flew silently and very slowly at about second-storey height.
Slow as her progress was, however, she made slightly too wide a sweep as she
flew into the blindingly-lit Arbat and hit her shoulder against an
illuminated glass traffic sign. This annoyed her. She stopped the obedient
broomstick, flew back, aimed for the sign and with a sudden flick of the end
of her broom, smashed it to fragments. The pieces crashed to the ground,
passers-by jumped aside, a whistle blew and Margarita burst into laughter at
her little act of wanton destruction.
' I shall have to be even more careful on the Arbat,' she thought to
herself. ' There are so many obstructions, it's like a maze.' She began
weaving between the cables. Beneath her flowed the roofs of trolley-buses,
buses and cars, and rivers of hats surged along the pavements. Little
streams diverged from these rivers and trickled into the lighted caves of
' What a maze,' thought Margarita crossly. ' There's no room to
manoeuvre here! '
She crossed the Arbat, climbed to fourth-floor height, past the
brilliant neon tubes of a corner theatre and turned into a narrow
side-street flanked with tall houses. All their windows were open and radio
music poured out from all sides. Out of curiosity Margarita glanced into one
of them. She saw a kitchen. Two Primuses were roaring away on a marble
ledge, attended by two women standing with spoons in their hands and
swearing at each other.
' You should put the light out when you come out of the lavatory, I've
told you before, Pelagea Petrovna,' said the woman with a saucepan of some
steaming decoction, ' otherwise we'll have you chucked out of here.'
' You can't talk,' replied the other.
' You're both as bad as each other,' said Margarita clearly, leaning
over the windowsill into the kitchen.
The two quarrelling women stopped at the sound of her voice and stood
petrified, clutching their dirty spoons. Margarita carefully stretched out
her arm between them and turned off both primuses. The women gasped. But
Margarita was already bored with this prank and had flown out again into the
Her attention was caught by a massive and obviously newly-built
eight-storey block of flats at the far end of the street. Margarita flew
towards it and as she landed she saw that the building was faced with black
marble, that its doors were wide, that a porter in gold-laced peaked cap and
buttons stood in the hall. Over the doorway was a gold inscription reading '
Margarita frowned at the inscription, wondering what the word '
Dramlit' could mean. Tucking her broomstick under her arm, Margarita pushed
open the front door, to the amazement of the porter, walked in and saw a
huge black notice-board that listed the names and flat numbers of all the
residents. The inscription over the name-board, reading ' Drama and
Literature House,' made Margarita give a suppressed yelp of predatory
anticipation. Rising a little in the air, she began eagerly to read the
names: Khustov, Dvubratsky, Quant, Beskudnikov, Latunsky . . .
' Latunsky!' yelped Margarita. ' Latunsky! He's the man . . . who
ruined the master!'
The porter jumped up in astonishment and stared at the name-board,
wondering why it had suddenly given a shriek.
Margarita was already flying upstairs, excitedly repeating :
' Latunsky, eighty-four . . . Latunsky, eighty-four . . . Here we are,
left--eighty-two, right--eighty-three, another floor up, left--eighty-four!
Here it is and there's his name--" 0. Latunsky ".'
Margarita jumped off her broomstick and the cold stone floor of the
landing felt pleasantly cool to her hot bare feet. She rang once, twice. No
answer. Margarita pressed the button harder and heard the bell ringing far
inside Latunsky's flat. Latunsky should have been grateful to his dying day
that the chairman of massolit had fallen under a tramcar and that the
memorial gathering was being held that very evening. Latunsky must have been
born under a lucky star, because the coincidence saved him from an encounter
with Margarita, newly turned witch that Friday.
No one came to open the door. At full speed Margarita flew down,
counting the floors as she went, reached the bottom, flew out into the
street and looked up. She counted the floors and tried to guess which of the
windows belonged to Latunsky's flat. Without a doubt they were the five
unlighted windows on the eighth floor at the corner of the building. Feeling
sure that she was right, Margarita flew up and a few seconds later found her
way through an open window into a dark room lit only by a silver patch of
moonlight. Margarita walked across and fumbled for the switch. Soon all the
lights in the flat were burning. Parking her broom in a corner and making
sure that nobody was at home, Margarita opened the front door and looked at
the nameplate. This was it.
People say that Latunsky still turns pale when he remembers that
evening and that he always pronounces Berlioz's name with gratitude. If he
had been at home God knows what violence might have been done that night.
Margarita went into the kitchen and came out with a massive hammer.
Naked and invisible, unable to restrain herself, her hands shook with
impatience. Margarita took careful aim and hit the keys of the grand piano,
sending a crashing discord echoing through the flat. The innocent piano, a
Backer baby grand, howled and sobbed. With the sound of a revolver shot, the
polished sounding-board split under a hammer-blow. Breathing hard, Margarita
smashed and battered the strings until she collapsed into an armchair to
An ominous sound of water came from the kitchen and the bathroom. ' It
must be overflowing by now . . .' thought Margarita and added aloud :
' But there's no time to sit and gloat.'
A flood was already pouring from the kitchen into the passage. Wading
barefoot, Margarita carried buckets of water into the critic's study, and
emptied them into the drawers of his desk. Then having smashed the
glass-fronted bookcase with a few hammer-blows, she ran into the bedroom.
There she shattered the mirror in the wardrobe door, pulled out all
Latunsky's suits and flung them into the bathtub. She found a large bottle
of ink in the study and poured its contents all over the huge, luxurious
Although all this destruction was giving her the deepest pleasure, she
somehow felt that its total effect was inadequate and too easily repaired.
She grew wilder and more indiscriminate. In the room with the piano, she
smashed the flower vases and the pots holding rubber plants. With savage
delight she rushed into the bedroom with a cook's knife, slashed all the
sheets and broke the glass in the photograph frames. Far from feeling tired,
she wielded her weapon with such ferocity that the sweat poured in streams
down her naked body.
Meanwhile in No. 82, immediately beneath Latunsky's flat, Quant's maid
was drinking a cup of tea in the kitchen and wondering vaguely why there was
so much noise and running about upstairs. Looking up at the ceiling she
suddenly saw it change colour from white to a deathly grey-blue. The patch
spread visibly and it began to spout drops of water. The maid sat there for
a few minutes, bewildered at this phenomenon, until a regular shower began
raining down from the ceiling and pattering on the floor. She jumped up and
put a bowl under the stream, but it was useless as the shower was spreading
and was already pouring over the gas stove and the dresser. With a shriek
Quant's maid ran out of the flat on to the staircase and started ringing
Latunsky's front-door bell.
' Ah, somebody's ringing . . . time to go,' said Margarita. She mounted
the broom, listening to a woman's voice shouting through the keyhole.
' Open up, open up! Open the door, Dusya! Your water's overflowing!
We're being flooded! '
Margarita flew up a few feet and took a swing at the chandelier. Two
lamps broke and glass fragments flew everywhere. The shouts at the keyhole
had stopped and there was a tramp of boots on the staircase. Margarita
floated out of the window, where she turned and hit the glass a gentle blow
with her hammer. It shattered and cascaded in smithereens down the marble
facade on to the street below. Margarita flew on to the next window. Far
below people were running about on the pavement, and one of the cars
standing outside the entrance started up and drove away.
Having dealt with all Latunsky's windows, Margarita floated on towards
the next flat. The blows became more frequent, the street resounded with
bangs and tinkles. The porter ran out of the front door, looked up,
hesitated for a moment in amazement, popped a whistle into his mouth and
blew like a maniac. The noise inspired Margarita to even more violent action
on the eighth-floor windows and then to drop down a storey and to start work
on the seventh.
Bored by his idle job of hanging around the entrance hall, the porter
put all his pent-up energy into blowing his whistle, playing a woodwind
obbligato in time to Margarita's enthusiastic percussion. In the intervals
as she moved from window to window, he drew breath and then blew an
ear-splitting blast from distended cheeks at each stroke of Margarita's
hammer. Their combined efforts produced the most impressive results. Panic
broke out in Dramlit House. The remaining unbroken window-panes were flung
open, heads were popped out and instantly withdrawn, whilst open windows
were hastily shut. At the lighted windows of the building opposite appeared
figures, straining forward to try and see why for no reason all the windows
of Dramlit House were spontaneously exploding.
All along the street people began running towards Dramlit House and
inside it others were pelting senselessly up and down the staircase. The
Quants' maid shouted to them that they were being flooded out and she was
soon joined by the Khustovs' maid from No. 80 which lay underneath the
Quants'. Water was pouring through the Khustovs' ceiling into the bathroom
and the kitchen. Finally an enormous chunk of plaster crashed down from
Quants' kitchen ceiling, smashing all the dirty crockery on the
draining-board and letting loose a deluge as though someone upstairs were
pouring out buckets of dirty rubbish and lumps of sodden plaster. Meanwhile
a chorus of shouts came from the staircase.
Flying past the last window but one on the fourth floor, Margarita
glanced into it and saw a panic-stricken man putting on a gas mask.
Terrified at the sound of Margarita's hammer tapping on the window, he
vanished from the room. Suddenly the uproar stopped. Floating down to the
third floor Margarita looked into the far window, which was shaded by a
flimsy blind. The room was lit by a little night-light. In a cot with
basketwork sides sat a little boy of about four, listening nervously. There
were no grownups in the room and they had obviously all run out of the flat.
' Windows breaking,' said the little boy and cried : ' Mummy!'
Nobody answered and he said :
' Mummy, I'm frightened.'
Margarita pushed aside the blind and flew in at the window.
' I'm frightened,' said the little boy again, shivering.
' Don't be frightened, darling,' said Margarita, trying to soften her
now raucous, harsh voice. ' It's only some boys breaking windows.'
' With a catapult? ' asked the boy, as he stopped shivering.
' Yes, with a catapult,' agreed Margarita. ' Go to sleep now.'
' That's Fedya,' said the boy. ' He's got a catapult.'
' Of course, it must be Fedya.'
The boy glanced slyly to one side and asked :
' Where are you, aunty? '
' I'm nowhere,' replied Margarita. ' You're dreaming about me.
' I thought so,' said the little boy.
' Now you lie down,' said Margarita, ' put your hand under your cheek
and I'll send you to sleep.'
' All right,' agreed the boy and lay down at once with his cheek on his
' I'll tell you a story,' Margarita began, laying her hot hand on the
child's cropped head. ' Once upon a time there was a lady . . . she had no
children and she was never happy. At first she just used to cry, then one
day she felt very naughty . . .' Margarita stopped and took away her hand.
The little boy was asleep.
Margarita gently put the hammer on the windowsill and flew out of the
window. Below, disorder reigned. People were shouting and running up and
down the glass-strewn pavement, policemen among them. Suddenly a bell
started clanging and round the corner from the Arbat drove a red fire-engine
with an extending ladder.
Margarita had already lost interest. Steering her way past any cables,
she clutched the broom harder and in a moment was flying high above Dramlit
House. The street veered sideways and vanished. Beneath her now was only an
expanse of roofs, criss-crossed with brilliantly lit roads. Suddenly it all
slipped sideways, the strings of light grew blurred and vanished.
Margarita gave another jerk, at which the sea of roofs disappeared,
replaced below her by a sea of shimmering electric lights. Suddenly the sea
of light swung round to the vertical and appeared over Margarita's head
whilst the moon shone under her legs. Realising that she had looped the
loop, Margarita righted herself, turned round and saw that the sea had
vanished ; behind her there was now only a pink glow on the horizon. In a
second that too had disappeared and Margarita saw that she was alone with
the moon, sailing along above her and to the left. Margarita's hair streamed
out behind her in wisps as the moonlight swished past her body. From the two
lines of widely-spaced lights meeting at a point in the distance and from
the speed with which they were vanishing behind her Margarita guessed that
she was flying at prodigious speed and was surprised to discover that it did
not take her breath away.
After a few seconds' travel, far below in the earthbound blackness an
electric sunrise flared up and rolled beneath Margarita's feet, then twisted
round and vanished. Another few seconds, another burst of light.
' Towns! Towns!' shouted Margarita.
Two or tliree times she saw beneath her what looked like dull glinting
bands of steel ribbon that were rivers.
Glancing upward and to the left she stared at the moon as it flew past
her, rushing backwards to Moscow, yet strangely appearing to stand still. In
the moon she could clearly see a mysterious dark shape--not exactly a
dragon, not quite a little hump-backed horse, its sharp muzzle pointed
towards the city she was leaving.
The thought then came to Margarita that there was really no reason for
her to drive her broom at such a speed. She was missing a unique chance to
see the world from a new viewpoint and savour the thrill of flight.
Something told her that wherever her destination might be, her hosts would
wait for her.
There was no hurry, no reason to make herself dizzy with speed or to
fly at such a height, so she tilted the head other broom downwards and
floated, at a greatly reduced speed, almost down to ground level. This
headlong dive, as though on an aerial toboggan, gave her the utmost
pleasure. The earth rose up to her and the moonlit landscape, until then an
indistinguishable blur, was revealed in exquisite detail. Margarita flew
just above the veil of mist over meadow and pond ; through the wisps of
vapour she could hear the croaking of frogs, from the distance came the
heart-stopping moan of a train. Soon Margarita caught sight of it. It was
moving slowly, like a caterpillar blowing sparks from the top of its head.
She overtook it, crossed another lake in which a reflected moon swam beneath
her legs, then flew still lower, nearly brushing the tops of the giant pines
with her feet.
Suddenly Margarita caught the sound of heavy, snorting breath behind
her and it seemed to be slowly catching her up. Gradually another noise like
a flying bullet and a woman's raucous laughter could be heard. Margarita
looked round and saw that she was being followed by a dark object of curious
shape. As it drew nearer it began to look like someone flying astride, until
as it slowed down to draw alongside her Margarita saw clearly that it was
Completely naked too, her hair streaming behind her, she was flying
along mounted on a fat pig, clutching a briefcase in its front legs and
furiously pounding the air with its hind trotters. A pince-nez, which
occasionally flashed in the moonlight, had fallen off its nose and was
dangling on a ribbon, whilst the pig's hat kept falling forward over its
eyes. After a careful look Margarita recognised the pig as Nikolai Ivanovich
and her laughter rang out, mingled with Natasha's, over the forest below.
' Natasha! ' shrieked Margarita. ' Did you rub the cream on yourself?'
' Darling!' answered Natasha, waking the sleeping pine forests with her
screech. ' I smeared it on his bald head I '
' My princess! ' grunted the pig miserably.
' Darling Margarita Nikolayevna! ' shouted Natasha as she galloped
alongside. ' I confess--I took the rest of the cream. Why shouldn't I fly
away and live, too? Forgive me, but I could never come back to you now--not
for anything. This is the life for me! . .. He made me a
proposition.'--Natasha poked her finger into the back of the pig's neck--'
The old lecher. I didn't think he had it in him, did you? What did you call
me? ' she yelled, leaning down towards the pig's ear.
' Goddess! ' howled the animal. ' Slow down, Natasha, please! There are
important papers in my briefcase and I may lose them! '
' To hell with your papers,' shouted Natasha, laughing. ‘ Oh, please
don't shout like that, somebody may hear us!' roared the pig imploringly.
As she flew alongside Margarita, Natasha laughingly told her what had
happened in the house after Margarita Nikolayevna had flown away over the
Natasha confessed that without touching any more of the things she had
been given she had torn her clothes off, rushed to the cream and started to
anoint herself. The same transformation took place. Laughing aloud with
delight, she was standing in front of the mirror admiring her magical beauty
when the door opened and in walked Nikolai Ivanovich. He was highly excited
and was holding Margarita Nikolayevna's slip, his briefcase and his hat. At
first he was riveted to the spot with horror, then announced, as red as a
lobster, that he thought he should bring the garment back. . . .
' The things he said, the beast! ' screamed Natasha, roaring with
laughter. ' The things he suggested! The money he offered me! Said his wife
would never find out. It's true, isn't it?' Natasha shouted to the pig,
which could do nothing but wriggle its snout in embarrassment.
As they had romped about in the bedroom, Natasha smeared some of the
cream on Nikolai Ivanovich and then it was her turn to freeze with
astonishment. The face of her respectable neighbour shrank and grew a snout,
whilst his arms and legs sprouted trotters. Looking at himself in the mirror
Nikolai Ivanovich gave a wild, despairing squeal but it was too late. A few
seconds later, with Natasha astride him, he was flying through the air away
from Moscow, sobbing with chagrin.
' I demand to be turned back to my usual shape! ' the pig suddenly
grunted, half angry, half begging. ' I refuse to take part: in an illegal
assembly! Margarita Nikolayevna, kindly take your maid off my back.'
' Oh, so I'm a maid now, am I! What d'you mean--maid!' cried Natasha,
tweaking the pig's ear. ' I was a goddess just now! What did you call me? '
' Venus! ' replied the pig miserably, brushing a hazel-bush with its
feet as they flew low over a chattering, fast-flowing stream.
' Venus! Venus! ' screamed Natasha triumphantly, putting one arm akimbo
and waving the other towards the moon.
' Margarita! Queen Margarita! Ask them to let me stay a witch! You have
the power to ask for whatever you like and they'll do it for you.'
Margarita replied :
' Very well, I promise.'
' Thanks!' screamed Natasha, raising her voice still higher to shout: '
Hey, go on--faster, faster! Faster than that! '
She dug her heels into the pig's thin flanks, sending it flying
forward. In a moment Natasha could only be seen as a dark spot far ahead and
as she vanished altogether the swish of her passage through the air died
Margarita flew on slowly through the unknown, deserted countryside,
over hills strewn with occasional rocks and sparsely grown with giant fir
trees. She was no longer flying over their tops, but between their trunks,
silvered on one side by the moonlight. Her faint shadow flitted ahead of
her, as the moon was now at her back.
Sensing that she was approaching water, Margarita guessed that her goal
was near. The fir trees parted and Margarita gently floated through the air
towards a chalky hillside. Below it lay a river. A mist was swirling round
the bushes growing on the cliff-face, whilst the opposite bank was low and
flat. There under a lone clump of trees was the flicker of a camp fire,
surrounded by moving figures, and Margarita seemed to hear the insistent
beat of music. Beyond, as far as the eye could see, there was not a sign of
Margarita bounded down the hillside to the water, which looked tempting
after her chase through the air. Throwing aside the broom, she took a run
and dived head-first into the water. Her body, as light as air, plunged in
and threw up a column of spray almost to the moon. The water was as warm as
a bath and as she glided upwards from the bottom Margarita revelled in the
freedom of swimming alone in a river at night. There was no one near
Margarita in the water, but further away near some bushes by the shore, she
could hear splashing and snorting. Someone else was having a bathe.
Margarita swam ashore and ran up the bank. Her body tingled. She felt
no fatigue after her long flight and gave a little dance of pure joy on the
damp grass. Suddenly she stopped and listened. The snorting was moving
closer and from a clump of reeds there emerged a fat man, naked except for a
dented top hat perched on the back of his head. He had been plodding his way
through sticky mud, which made him seem to be wearing black boots. To judge
from his breath and his hiccups he had had a great deal to drink, which was
confirmed by a smell of brandy rising from the water around him.
Catching sight of Margarita the fat man stared at her, then cried with
a roar of joy:
' Surely it can't be! It is--Claudine, the merry widow! What brings you
here? ' He waddled forward to greet her. Margarita retreated and replied in
a dignified voice :
'Go to hell! What d'you mean--Claudine? Who d'you think you're talking
to?' After a moment's reflection she rounded off her retort with a long,
satisfying and unprintable obscenity. Its effect on the fat man was
' Oh dear,' he exclaimed, flinching. ' Forgive me--I didn't see you,
your majesty. Queen Margot. It's the fault of the brandy.' The fat man
dropped on to one knee, took off his top hat, bowed and in a mixture of
Russian and French jabbered some nonsense about having just come from a
wedding in Paris, about brandy and about how deeply he apologised for his
' You might have put your trousers on, you great fool,' said Margarita,
relenting though still pretending to be angry.
The fat man grinned with delight as he realised that Margarita had
forgiven him and he announced cheerfully that he just happened to be without
his trousers at this particular moment because he had absent-mindedly left
them on the bank of the river Yenisei where he had been bathing just before
flying here, but would go back for them at once. With an effusive volley of
farewells he began bowing and walking backwards, until he slipped and fell
headlong into the water. Even as he fell, however, his side-whiskered face
kept its smile of cheerful devotion. Then Margarita gave a piercing whistle,
mounted the obedient broomstick and flew across to the far bank, which lay
in the full moonlight beyond the shadow cast by the chalk cliff.
As soon as she touched the wet grass the music from the clump of
willows grew louder and the stream of sparks blazed upwards with furious
gaiety. Under the willow branches, hung with thick catkins, sat two rows of
fat-cheeked frogs, puffed up as if they were made of rubber and playing a
march on wooden pipes. Glow-worms hung on the willow twigs in front of the
musicians to light their sheets of music whilst a nickering glow from the
camp fire played over the frogs' faces.
The march was being played in Margarita's honour as part of a solemn
ceremony of welcome. Translucent water-sprites stopped their dance to wave
fronds at her as their cries of welcome floated across the broad
water-meadow. Naked witches jumped down from the willows and curtsied to
her. A goat-legged creature ran up, kissed her hand and, as he spread out a
silken sheet on the grass, enquired if she had enjoyed her bathe and whether
she would like to lie down and rest.
As Margarita lay down the goat-legged man brought her a goblet of
champagne, which at once warmed her heart. Asking where Natasha was, she was
told that Natasha had already bathed. She was already flying back to Moscow
on her pig to warn them that Margarita would soon be coming and to help in
preparing her attire.
Margarita's short stay in the willow-grove was marked by a curious
event: a whistle split the air and a dark body, obviously missing its
intended target, sailed through the air and landed in the water. A few
moments later Margarita was faced by the same fat man with side whiskers who
had so clumsily introduced himself earlier. He had obviously managed to fly
back to the Yenisei because although soaking wet from head to foot, he now
wore full evening dress. He had been at the brandy again, which had caused
him to land in the water, but as before his smile was indestructible and in
his bedraggled state he was permitted to kiss Margarita's hand.
All prepared to depart. The water-sprites ended their dance and
vanished. The goat-man politely asked how she had arrived at the river and
on hearing that she had ridden there on a broom he cried:
' Oh, how uncomfortable! ' In a moment he had twisted two branches into
the shape of a telephone and ordered someone to send a car at once, which
was done in a minute.
A brown open car flew down to the island. Instead of a driver the
chauffeur's seat was occupied by a black, long-beaked crow in a check cap
and gauntlets. The island emptied as the witches flew away in the moonlight,
the fire burned out and the glowing embers turned to grey ash.
The goat-man opened the door for Margarita, who sprawled on the car's
wide back seat. The car gave a roar, took off and climbed almost to the
moon. The island fell away, the river disappeared and Margarita was on her
way to Moscow.
... previous page next page...