“The Heart of a Dog”, Chapter III – Weekly Reads

Dear friends!

The literary plot continues to develop, and Sharik gradually gets used to the new “himself”. But he does not yet understand what exactly happened to him, and he cannot even imagine what this will lead to. Details in Chapter III below! Enjoy reading!


Chapter III

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. “Hrn, 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!


Source: The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov Translated by Avril Pyman Mikhail Bulgakov 1925 English translation copyright Raduga Publishers Moscow 1990