The Two Ivans
The wood on the far bank of the river, which an hour before had glowed
in the May sunshine, had now grown dim, had blurred and dissolved.
Outside, water was pouring down in solid sheets. Now and again there
came a rift in the sky, the heavens split and the patient's room was flooded
with a terrifying burst of light.
Ivan was quietly weeping as he sat on his bed and stared out at the
boiling, muddied river. At every clap of thunder he cried miserably and
covered his face with his hands. Sheets of paper, covered with his writing,
blew about on the floor.
The poet's efforts to compose a report on the terrible professor had
come to nothing. As soon as he had been given a stub of a pencil and some
paper by the fat nurse, whose name was Pras-kovya Fyodorovna, he had rubbed
his hands in a businesslike way and arranged his bedside table for work. The
beginning sounded rather well:
' To the Police. From Ivan Nikolayich Bezdomny, Member of massolit.
Statement. Yesterday evening I arrived at Patriarch's Ponds with the late M.
A. Berlioz. . . .'
Here the poet stumbled, chiefly because of the words ' the late '. It
sounded wrong--how could he have ' arrived' with ' the late '? Dead people
can't walk. If he wrote like this they really would think he was mad. So
Ivan Nikolayich made some corrections, which resulted in : '. . . with M. A.
Berlioz, later deceased.' He did not like that either, so he wrote a third
version and that was even worse than the previous two:
'. . . with Berlioz, who fell under a tram . . .' Here he thought of
the composer of the same name and felt obliged to add : ' ... not the
Struggling with these two Berliozes, Ivan crossed it all out and
decided to begin straight away with a striking phrase which would
immediately catch the reader's attention, so he first described how the cat
had jumped on the tram and then described the episode of the severed head.
The head and the professor's forecast reminded him of Pontius Pilate, so to
sound more convincing Ivan decided to give the story of the Procurator in
full, from the moment when he had emerged in his white, red-lined cloak into
the arcade of Herod's palace.
Ivan worked hard. He crossed out what he had written, put in new words
and even tried to draw a sketch of Pontius Pilate, then one showing the cat
walking on its hind legs. But his drawings were hopeless and the further he
went the more confused his statement grew.
By the time the storm had begun, Ivan felt that he was exhausted and
would never be able to write a statement. His windblown sheets of paper were
in a complete muddle and he began to weep, quietly and bitterly. The kind
nurse Praskovya Fyodorovna called on the poet during the storm and was
worried to find him crying. She closed the blinds so that the lightning
should not frighten the patient, picked up the sheets of paper and went off
with them to look for the doctor.
The doctor appeared, gave Ivan an injection in his arm and assured him
that he would soon stop crying, that it would pass, everything would be all
right and he would forget all about it.
The doctor was right. Soon the wood across the river looked as it
always did. The weather cleared until every single tree stood out against a
sky which was as blue as before and the river subsided. His injection at
once made Ivan feel less depressed. The poet lay quietly down and gazed at
the rainbow stretched across the sky.
He lay there until evening and did not even notice how the rainbow
dissolved, how the sky faded and saddened, how the wood turned to black.
When he had drunk his hot milk, Ivan lay down again. He was amazed to
notice how his mental condition had changed. The memory of the diabolical
cat had grown indistinct, he was no longer frightened by the thought of the
decapitated head. Ivan started to muse on the fact that the clinic really
wasn't such a bad place, that Stravinsky was very clever and famous and that
he was an extremely pleasant man to deal with. The evening air, too, was
sweet and fresh after the storm.
The asylum was asleep. The white frosted-glass bulbs in the silent
corridors were extinguished and in their place glowed the weak blue
night-lights. The nurses' cautious footsteps were heard less and less
frequently walking the rubber-tiled floor of the corridor.
Ivan now lay in sweet lassitude ; glancing at his bedside lamp, then at
the dim ceiling light and at the moon rising in the dark, he talked to
' I wonder why I got so excited about Berlioz falling under that tram?
' the poet reasoned. ' After all he's dead, and we all die some time. It's
not as if I were a relation or a really close friend either. When you come
to think of it I didn't even know the man very well. What did I really know
about him? Nothing, except that he was bald and horribly talkative. So,
gentlemen,' went on Ivan, addressing an imaginary audience,' let us consider
the following problem : why, I should like to know, did I get in such a rage
with that mysterious professor or magician with his empty, black eye? Why
did I chase after him like a fool in those underpants and holding a candle?
Why the ridiculous scene in the restaurant? '
' Wait a moment, though! ' said the old Ivan severely to the new Ivan
in a voice that was not exactly inside him and not quite by his ear. ' He
did know in advance that Berlioz was going to have his head cut off, didn't
he? Isn't that something to get upset about? '
' What do you mean? ' objected the new Ivan. ' I quite agree that it's
a nasty business--a child could see that. But he's a mysterious, superior
being--that's what makes it so interesting. Think of it--a man who knew
Pontius Pilate! Instead of creating that ridiculous scene at Patriarch's
wouldn't it have been
rather more intelligent to ask him politely what happened next to
Pilate and that prisoner Ha-Notsri? And I had to behave like an idiot! Of
course it's a serious matter to kill the editor of a magazine. But
still--the magazine won't close down just because of that, will it? Man is
mortal and as the professor so rightly said mortality can come so suddenly.
So God rest his soul and let's get ourselves another editor, perhaps one
who's even more of a chatterbox than Berlioz!'
After dozing for a while the new Ivan said spitefully to the old Ivan:
' And how do I look after this affair? '
' A fool,' distinctly said a bass voice that belonged to neither of the
Ivans and was extremely like the professor's.
Ivan, somehow not offended by the word 'fool' but even pleasantly
surprised by it, smiled and sank into a half-doze. Sleep crept up on him. He
had a vision of a palm tree on its elephantine leg and a cat passed by--not
a terrible cat but a nice one and Ivan was just about to fall asleep when
suddenly the grille slid noiselessly aside. A mysterious figure appeared on
the moonlit balcony and pointed a threatening finger at Ivan.
Quite unafraid Ivan sat up in bed and saw a man on the balcony.
Pressing his finger to his lips the man whispered : ' Shh!'
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