We are sending you Chapter II of the Notes on a Cuff, the heading of which asks the important question “What are we going to do ?!”. Each of us has his/her own answer to this question. And the main characters are especially creative in this. Details can be found in the text below.
Chapter II. WHAT WE GONNA DO?
The novelist Yuri Slyozkin (4) sat in a posh armchair. Everything in the room was posh, so Yuri looked excruciatingly out of place there. His head shaven by typhus was just like that boy’s head described by Mark Twain ( a pepper-sprinkled egg ). A moth-eaten army jacket with a hole under the arm. Grey puttees, one longer than the other, on his legs. A two-kopeck pipe in his mouth. And fear leap-frogging with anguish in his eyes.
“What’s going to become of us?” I asked, hardly recognising my own voice. After the second bout it was weak, reedy and cracked.
I turned round in bed and looked wretchedly out of the window, where still naked branches were waving slowly. The exquisite sky touched faintly by the fading sunset gave no reply, of course. Slyozkin was silent too, nodding his shorn head. In the next room a dress rustled and a woman’s voice whispered:
“The Ingushes will raid the town tonight…”
Slyozkin twitched in his chair and corrected her:
“The Ossetians, not the Ingushes. And tomorrow morning, not tonight.”
The flasks behind the wall responded nervously.
“The Ossetians! Oh, my God! That’s terrible!”
“What difference does it make?”
“What difference? Ah, you don’t know the local customs. When the Ingushes raid, they raid. But when the Ossetians raid, they kill too.”
“Will they kill everyone?” Slyozkin asked in a matter-of-fact voice, puffing on his foul-smelling pipe.
“Goodness me! What a strange person you are! Not everyone… Just those who… Oh, dear, what’s the matter with me! I forgot. We’re disturbing the patient.”
A dress rustled. The lady of the house bent over me.
“I am not dis-turb-ed…”
“Nonsense,” Slyozkin retorted sharply. “Nonsense!”
“All that about Ossetians and the rest of it. Rubbish.” He puffed out a cloud of smoke.
My exhausted brain suddenly sang out:
Mamma! Mamma! What we gonna do?
“And what precisely are we going to do?”
Slyozkin grinned with his right cheek only, thought for a moment and had a burst of inspiration.
“We’ll open an ASS, an Arts Sub-Section!”
“What on earth is that?”
“A sob-sexy on?”
“No, a sub-section!”
“Er … well, you see,” he shifted around, “there’s a Sec. of Ed. or Ed. Sec. Sec. Get it? And this is a sub-section. Sub. Get it?”
“Sec. of Ed. Pin-head. Barbousse. Screw loose.”
The lady of the house let fly.
“Don’t talk to him, for goodness sake! He’ll get delirious again…”
“Nonsense!” said Yuri sternly. “Nonsense! And all those Mingrelians and Imere… What are they called? Circassians. They’re plain stupid!”
“They just rush about. Shooting. At the moon. They won’t rob anyone.”
“But what’ll happen? To us?”
“Nothing. We’ll open up…”
“That’s right. The whole lot. Fine Arts. Photo. Lit. and Dram.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Please don’t talk, Misha dear! The doctor…”
“Tell you later! It’ll be alright. I’ve been in charge before. What do we care? We’re a-political. We’re Art!”
“And how shall we live?”
“We’ll hide our money behind the carpet.”
“In the town where I was in charge, we had a carpet on the wall. And when we got paid, my wife and I used to hide it behind the carpet. They were anxious times. But we ate. Ate well. Special rations.”
“What about me?”
“You’ll be ASS Lit. head. Yes.”
“Please, Misha. I beg you!”
4. “The novelist Yuri Slyozkin…” The writer Yu. L. Slyozkin (1885-1947), author of the novels Table Mountain
(The Girl from the Mountain), Abdication and others, which portray the events of the pre-revolutionary period and the years just after the Revolution.
Source: “Notes On the Cuff – And Other Stories”, Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Alison Rise, Published December 31st 1991 by Ardis Publishers, 0875010571