The Old Woman
A story

"...And the two of them had the following conversation."

An old woman is holding a clock in her hands, standing in a courtyard. I stop when passing her by and talk to her: "What's the time?"

"Have a look," she replies.

I look but cannot see the clock's hands.

"It has no hands," I say.

She looks at the clock's face and says: "The time now is quarter to three."

"Is that so? Thank you very much," I say, and walk away.

The old woman yells something after me, but I keep on walking. I come out onto the street and walk down onto the sunny side. The spring's sun is rather pleasant. I walk screwing up my eyes at the sun and smoking my pipe. On the corner of Sadovaya I bump into Sakerdon Michailovich. We stop, greet each other and talk for a long time. Since I am a little tired of standing on the street and I invite Sakerdon Michailovich into the basement. We drink Vodka, eat boiled eggs and sprat, after which we say goodbye, and I continue walking on my own.

Suddenly, I remember I have forgotten to turn off the electric stove back home. This is such an inconvenience. I turn around and head back. The day begun so well, and now, look: my first failure. I should have never left home.

Back home, I take off my coat, take my watch out of my waistcoat pocket and hang it on a nail. Then, I lock the door with the key and lie down on the sofa. I plan to stay there and try to go to sleep.

I can hear little boys screaming on the street - so unpleasant! I lie on the sofa and try to think up different ways I would like to execute them. The best one is infecting them with tetanus, imagining them suddenly incapable of movement. Their parents come and carry them home. They lie in their little beds and cannot eat, since their mouths won't move. They are fed artificially. After a week the tetanus cures, but the children are still weak and they have to stay in bed a further more month. They gradually recover, but I loose the tetanus on them one more time and all of them die.

I lie on the sofa with my eyes open and can't fall asleep. I remember the old lady whom I met today in the courtyard, and it pleases me to recall that her clock had no hands. Not long ago I saw an awful kitchen clock in a second hand store, with hands made of a knife and a fork.

Good God! I still haven't turned off the electric stove!

I get up and turn it off, then go back to the sofa and try to fall asleep. I close my eyes. I can't sleep. And the spring sun shines directly on me. I start feeling hot. I stand up and sit in the armchair by the window.

Now I want to sleep, but I am not going to. I'll get some pen and paper and start writing. I feel tremendous power building within myself. I thought of everything yesterday: it will be a story about a miracle-maker who lives in our times and does not perform any miracles. He is evicted from his apartment and he knows that all it takes is to wave his handkerchief and the apartment will remain his, but he prefers not to. Instead, he leaves his apartment, and goes to live outside the city, in a barn. He can turn this barn into a beautiful house of brick, but he prefers not to: he continues living in the barn and finally dies without performing a single miracle in the course of his entire life.

I sit in my armchair, rubbing my hands with joy: I am so delighted. Sakerdon Michailovich will burst with envy. He thinks I can no longer write a work of genius. Quick, let's get to work! Enough with dreams and laziness! I will write for eighteen hours straight!

My body trembles with impatience. I cannot decide what to do first: I need pen and paper; instead I am grabbing different objects, remote from my needs. I pace around the room: from the window to the table, from the table to the stove, from the stove back to the table, than to the divan and back again to the window. The fire blazing in my chest is choking me. It is only five o'clock. I have a whole day, an evening, and a whole night ahead of me.

I stand in the center of the room. What am I thinking about? It's twenty past five already; I should start writing. I move a little table next to the window and sit down at it. I have graph paper in front of me and hold a pen in my hand.

My heart beats anxiously still and my hand shakes. I wait a little so I can relax a bit. I put the pen down and fill up my pipe. The sun shines right in my eyes; I light up my pipe while screwing up my eyes.

At this, a crow flies past my window. I look out of the window and see a cripple walking; he has a prosthetic leg. His leg is hitting the pavement loudly, so is his walking stick.

"Thook!" I say to myself, still looking through the window.

The sun hides behind a chimney of a house near by. The chimney's shadow runs down the roof, flies over the street and hangs down onto my face. I should take advantage of this shadow to write some words about the miracle-maker. I grab my pen and write:

"The miracle-maker was tall".

I can't write anything else. I sit still until I start feeling hungry. I stand up and go over to the drawer where I keep provisions. I search, but don't find anything; nothing but a piece of sugar.

There is a knock at the door.

"Who's there?"

No answer. I open the door and see before me the same old woman who I saw today in the courtyard, holding a clock. I am surprised and speechless.

"So, I came," says the old woman and enters my room.

I stand by the door pondering what to do: kick her out or offer her a seat instead? But the old woman makes up her own mind and walks over and sits in my armchair by the window.

"Close the door and lock it," she instructs me.

I close and lock the door.

"Get down on your knees," says the old woman.

I get down on my knees.

Suddenly, I begin to realize the absurdity of my position. Why am I standing on my knees before some old woman I don't even know? Further more, what is this old woman doing in my room, sitting in my favorite armchair? How come I didn't kick her out?

"Listen," I say "Who gave you the right to give orders in my room? Specially ordering me? I haven't the slightest desire to stand on my knees."

"Then don't," says the old woman. "Now you have to lay flat on your stomach, with your face sunk in the floor."

I immediately obeyed her...


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