Daniil Kharms (1905-42) mainly made a living writing children’s books in Leningrad. He also wrote poems and absurd short stories, often published in underground magazines, after the avant-garde literary societies that Kharms was associated with were banned by the Stalin regime.
In 1931 Kharms was convicted of anti-Soviet activity and spent a year in prison and exile in Kursk. In 1937 his children’s books were confiscated by the authorities, and deprived of his main source of income, Kharms was often on the brink of starvation in the following years. He continued to write short, grotesque stories, which weren’t published, but merely stored in Kharms’ desk drawer.
In August 1941, shortly before the terrible siege of Leningrad, Kharms was arrested a second time, accused of “spreading defeatist propaganda.” During the trial Kharms was declared non compos mentis and was incarcerated in a military prison. In February 1942, while Leningrad was ravaged by famine, Kharms died in prison.
Symphony No. 2
Anton Mikhailovich spat, said “yuck,” spat again, said “yuck” again, spat again, said “yuck” again and left. To Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Ilya Pavlovich.
Ilya Pavlovich was born in 1893 in Constantinople. When he was still a boy, they moved to St. Petersburg, and there he graduated from the German School on Kirchnaya Street. Then he worked in some shop; then he did something else; and when the Revolution began, he emigrated. Well, to Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Anna Ignatievna.
But it is not so easy to tell about Anna Ignatievna. Firstly, I know almost nothing about her, and secondly, I have just fallen off my chair, and have forgotten what I was about to say. So let me instead tell about myself.
I am tall, fairly intelligent; I dress prudently and tastefully; I don’t drink, I don’t bet on horses, but I like ladies. And ladies don’t mind me. They like when I go out with them. Serafima Izmaylovna has invited me home several times, and Zinaida Yakovlevna also said that she was always glad to see me. But I was involved in a funny incident with Marina Petrovna, which I would like to tell about. A quite ordinary thing, but rather amusing. Because of me, Marina Petrovna lost all her hair – got bald like a baby’s bottom. It happened like this: Once I went over to visit Marina Petrovna, and bang! she lost all her hair. And that was that.
Blue Notebook No. 2
Once there was a redheaded man without eyes and without ears. He had no hair either, so that he was a redhead was just something they said.
He could not speak, for he had no mouth. He had no nose either.
He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach either, and he had no back, and he had no spine, and no intestines of any kind. He didn’t have anything at all. So it is hard to understand whom we are really talking about.
So it is probably best not to talk about him any more.
A mom, a dad, and the maid named Natasha, were sitting at the table, drinking.
The dad was undoubtedly an alcoholic. Furthermore, even the mom looked down on him. But that didn’t prevent the dad from being a good man. He was smiling honestly while rocking in a chair. The maid Natasha had a lace apron and was very extremely shy. The dad was playing with his beard, but maid Natasha was lowering her eyes shyly, showing, in that way, that she was ashamed.
The mom, a tall woman with a big hairdo, spoke with a horselike voice. Her voice spread around the dining room and echoed back from the yard and other rooms.
After the first drink, everyone was quiet for a moment while they ate a sausage. A moment later, they all started talking again.
Suddenly, completely unexpected, someone knocked at the front door. Neither the dad, nor the mom, nor the maid, Natasha, could guess who was knocking on the front door.
– How strange? – said the dad. – Who could that be?
The mom looked at him with compassion and, even if it was not her turn, poured another glass, chugged it down and said:
The dad did not swear, but also poured a glass, chugged it down and got up from the table.
The dad was a short man. Completely opposite from the mom. The mom was a tall, plump woman with a voice like a horse, and the dad was simply her husband. And above all that, the dad had freckles.
He approached the door in one step and said:
– Who is it?
– Me – said the voice behind the door.
The door opened immediately, and in the room entered a maid, Natasha, all confused and blushing. Like a flower. Like a flower.
The dad sat down.
The mom had another drink.
The maid Natasha, and the other one, the “flower-like” one, got very shy and blushed. The dad looked at them but he did not swear, instead he had another drink and so did the mom.
The dad opened a can of crab paté to get the bad taste out of his mouth. Everyone was happy and they ate until morning. But the mom was quiet and she did not move from the chair. That was very impolite.
When the dad was about to sing a song, something hit the window. The mom jumped up terrified and yelled that she could clearly see someone looking through the window from the street. The others tried to convince the mom that that was impossible, because they were on the third floor and nobody from the street could possibly look through the window, as he would have to be a giant or Goliath.
But the mom would not change her mind. Nothing in the world could convince her that nobody could have been looking through the window.
In order to calm her down, they gave her another drink. The mom chugged it down. The dad also poured a glass and drank it.
Natasha and the maid, the “flower-like” one, were sitting, looking down in confusion.
– I cannot be happy when someone is looking at us through the window – said the mom.
The dad was desperate; he did not know how to calm the mom down. So he went down in the yard and tried to look through the window on the first floor. Of course, that was impossible. But that did not convince the mom. She did not even see that he couldn’t reach the first floor window.
Finally, confused by the situation, the dad ran into the dining room and had two drinks in a row, giving one of them to the mom. The mom had her drink, and said that she was drinking solely because someone was looking at them through the window.
The dad spread his hands.
– Here – he said to the mom, and opened the window.
A man with a dirty coat and a big knife in his hands tried to get in through the window. When the dad noticed him, he closed the window and said:
– There is nobody.
But, the man with a dirty coat was outside looking into the room through the window, and furthermore, he opened the window and got in.
The mom was extremely disturbed by this. She started acting hysterically, and, after she had a drink that the dad gave her and ate a little mushroom, she calmed down.
Soon the dad calmed down, too. Again everybody sat at the table and continued to drink.
The dad took the papers and spent a long time flipping them up and down trying to determine what comes up and what comes down. But no matter how long he tried he couldn’t sort it out so he put the papers aside and had a drink.
– Nice – said the dad – but we’re out of pickles.
The mom made a sound like a horse, which was pretty inappropriate, and made the maids look at the table cloth and laugh silently.
The dad had another drink and suddenly grabbed the mom and put her on the cupboard.
The mom’s gray, big, light hair was shaking, she got red spots all over her face, and, generally speaking, she was pretty upset.
The dad adjusted his trousers and started on a speech.
But at this point a secret hatch opened down on the floor and out from it crawled a monk.
The maids were so confused that one of them started to vomit. Natasha was holding her forehead and tried to hide what was going on.
The monk, the one that got out of the floor, aimed at the dad’s ear and hit him so hard that everybody could hear the bells ringing in the dad’s head!
The dad just sat down without even finishing his speech.
Then the monk approached the mom and with his hand, or leg, somehow from below, he kicked her.
The mom started to scream and cry for help.
Then the monk grabbed both maids by their aprons and, after swinging them through the air, let them hit the wall.
Then, unnoticed, the monk crawled back into the floor and closed the hatch behind him.
For a long time neither the dad, nor the mom, nor the maid Natasha could get their composure again. But later, when they got some fresh air, they had another drink while adjusting their appearance, they sat down at the table, and started to eat salad.
After another drink everyone was talking quietly.
Suddenly the dad got red in the face and started to yell:
– What! What! – the dad was yelling. – You think that I’m anal! You look at me like at a devil! I do not ask for your love! You are the devils!
The mom and the maid Natasha ran out of the room and locked themselves in the kitchen.
– Go away you drunk! Go, you son of a devil! – whispered the mom and the totally confused maid Natasha, behind the door.
And the dad stayed in the dining room until the morning when he took his bag, put on a white hat and quietly went to work.
Andrey Semyonovich spat into a cup of water. The water immediately turned black. Andrey Semyonovich screwed up his eyes and looked attentively into the cup. The water was very black. Andrey Semyonovich’s heart began to throb.
At that moment Andrey Semyonovich’s dog woke up. Andrey Semyonovich went over to the window and began ruminating.
Suddenly something big and dark shot past Andrey Semyonovich’s face and flew out of the window. This was Andrey Semyonovich’s dog flying out and it zoomed like a crow on to the roof of the building opposite. Andrey Semyonovich sat down on his haunches and began to howl.
Into the room ran Comrade Popugayev.
– What’s up with you? Are you ill? – asked Comrade Popugayev.
Andrey Semyonovich quieted down and rubbed his eyes with his hands.
Comrade Popugayev took a look into the cup which was standing on the table. – What’s this you’ve poured into here? – he asked Andrey Semyonovich.
– I don’t know – said Andrey Semyonovich.
Popugayev instantly disappeared. The dog flew in through the window again, lay down in its former place and went to sleep.
Andrey Semyonovich went over to the table and took a drink from the cup of blackened water. And Andrey Semyonovich’s soul turned lucid.
An amazing thing happened to me today, I suddenly forgot what comes first – 7 or 8.
I went to my neigbors and asked them about their opinion on this matter.
Great was their and my amazement, when they suddenly discovered, that they couldn’t recall the counting order. They remembered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, but forgot what comes next.
We all went to a commercial grocery store, the one that’s on the corner of Znamenskaya and Basseinaya streets to consult a cashier on our predicament. The cashier gave us a sad smile, took a small hammer out of her mouth, and moving her nose slightly back and forth, she said:
– In my opinion, a seven comes after an eight, only if an eight comes after a seven.
We thanked the cashier and ran cheerfully out of the store. But there, thinking carefully about the cashier’s words, we got sad again because her words were void of any meaning.
What were we supposed to do? We went to the Summer Garden and started counting trees. But reaching a six in count, we stopped and started arguing: In the opinion of some, a 7 went next; but in the opinion of others an 8 did.
We were arguing for a long time, when by some sheer luck, a child fell off a bench and broke both of his jaws. That distracted us from our argument.
And then we all went home.