A Story Which Will Never Be Finished by
Exhausted with the painful uncertainty of the day, I fell asleep,
dressed, on my bed. Suddenly my wife aroused me. In her hand a
candle was flickering, which appeared to me in the middle of the
night as bright as the sun. And behind the candle her chin, too, was
trembling, and enormous, unfamiliar dark eyes stared motionlessly.
"Do you know," she said, "do you know they are building barricades
on our street?"
It was quiet. We looked straight into each other's eyes, and I
felt my face turning pale. Life vanished somewhere and then returned
again with a loud throbbing of the heart. It was quiet and the flame
of the candle was quivering, and it was small, dull, but
sharp-pointed, like a crooked sword.
"Are you afraid?" I asked.
The pale chin trembled, but her eyes remained motionless and looked
at me, without blinking, and only now I noticed what unfamiliar, what
terrible eyes they were. For ten years I had looked into them and
had known them better than my own eyes, and now there was something
new in them which I am unable define. I would have called it pride,
but there was something different in them, something new, entirely
new. I took her hand; it was cold. She grasped my hand firmly and
there was something new, something I had not known before, in her
She had never before clasped my hand as she did this time.
"How long?" I asked.
"About an hour already. Your brother has gone away. He was
apparently afraid that you would not let him go, so he went away
quietly. But I saw it."
It was true then; the time had arrived. I rose, and, for some
reason, spent a long time washing myself, as was my wont in the
morning before going to work, and my wife held the light. Then we
put out the light and walked over to the window overlooking the
street. It was spring; it was May, and the air that came in from the
open window was such as we had never before felt in that old, large
city. For several days the factories and the roads had been idle;
and the air, free from smoke, was filled with the fragrance of the
fields and the flowering gardens, perhaps with that of the dew. I do
not know what it is that smells so wonderfully on spring nights when
I go out far beyond the outskirts of the city. Not a lantern, not a
carriage, not a single sound of the city over the unconcerned stony
surface; if you had closed your eyes you would really have thought
that you were in a village. There a dog was barking. I had never
before heard a dog barking in the city, and I laughed for happiness.
"Listen, a dog is barking."
My wife embraced me, and said:
"It is there, on the corner."
We bent over the window-sill, and there, in the transparent, dark
depth, we saw some movement—not people, but movement. Something was
moving about like a shadow. Suddenly the blows of a hatchet or a
hammer resounded. They sounded so cheerful, so resonant, as in a
forest, as on a river when you are mending a boat or building a dam.
And in the presentiment of cheerful, harmonious work, I firmly
embraced my wife, while she looked above the houses, above the roofs,
looked at the young crescent of the moon, which was already setting.
The moon was so young, so strange, even as a young girl who is
dreaming and is afraid to tell her dreams; and it was shining only
"When will we have a full moon?..."
"You must not! You must not!" my wife interrupted. "You must not
speak of that which will be. What for? IT is afraid of words. Come
It was dark in the room, and we were silent for a long time,
without seeing each other, yet thinking of the same thing. And when I
started to speak, it seemed to me that some one else was speaking; I
was not afraid, yet the voice of the other one was hoarse, as though
suffocating for thirst.
"What shall it be?"
"You will be with them. It will be enough for them to have a
mother. I cannot remain."
"And I? Can I?"
I know that she did not stir from her place, but I felt distinctly
that she was going away, that she was far—far away. I began to feel
so cold, I stretched out my hands—but she pushed them aside.
"People have such a holiday once in a hundred years, and you want
to deprive me of it. Why?" she said.
"But they may kill you there. And our children will perish."
"Life will be merciful to me. But even if they should perish—"
And this was said by her, my wife—a woman with whom I had lived
for ten years. But yesterday she had known nothing except our
children, and had been filled with fear for them; but yesterday she
had caught with terror the stern symptoms of the future. What had
come over her? Yesterday—but I, too, forgot everything that was
"Do you want to go with me?"
"Do not be angry"—she thought that I was afraid, angry—"Don't be
angry. To-night, when they began to knock here, and you were still
sleeping, I suddenly understood that my husband, my children—all
these were simply temporary... I love you, very much"—she found my
hand and shook it with the same new, unfamiliar grasp—"but do you
hear how they are knocking there? They are knocking, and something
seems to be falling, some kind of walls seem to be falling—and it is
so spacious, so wide, so free. It is night now, and yet it seems to
me that the sun is shining. I am thirty years of age, and I am old
already, and yet it seems to me that I am only seventeen, and that I
love some one with my first love—a great, boundless love."
"What a night!" I said. "It is as if the city were no more. You
are right, I have also forgotten how old I am."
"They are knocking, and it sounds to me like music, like singing of
which I have always dreamed—all my life. And I did not know whom it
was that I loved with such a boundless love, which made me feel like
crying and laughing and singing. There is freedom—do not take my
happiness away, let me die with those who are working there, who are
calling the future so bravely, and who are rousing the dead past from
"There is no such thing as time."
"What do you say?"
"There is no such thing as time. Who are you? I did not know you.
Are you a human being?"
She burst into such ringing laughter as though she were really only
seventeen years old.
"I did not know you, either. Are you, too, a human being? How
strange and how beautiful it is—a human being!"
That which I am writing happened long ago, and those who are
sleeping now in the sleep of grey life and who die without awakening—
those will not believe me: in those days there was no such thing as
time. The sun was rising and setting, and the hand was moving around
the dial—but time did not exist. And many other great and wonderful
things happened in those days.... And those who are sleeping now the
sleep of this grey life and who die without awakening, will not
"I must go," said I.
"Wait, I will give you something to eat. You haven't eaten
anything to-day. See how sensible I am: I shall go to-morrow. I
shall give the children away and find you."
"Comrade," said I.
Through the open windows came the breath of the fields, and
silence, and from time to time, the cheerful strokes of the axe, and I
sat by the table and looked and listened, and everything was so
mysteriously new that I felt like laughing. I looked at the walls and
they seemed to me to be transparent. As if embracing all eternity
with one glance, I saw how all these walls had been built, I saw how
they were being destroyed, and I alone always was and always will be.
Everything will pass, but I shall remain. And everything seemed to
me strange and queer—so unnatural—the table and the food upon it,
and everything outside of me. It all seemed to me transparent and
light, existing only temporarily.
"Why don't you eat?" asked my wife.
"Bread—it is so strange."
She glanced at the bread, at the stale, dry crust of bread, and for
some reason her face became sad. Still continuing to look at it, she
silently adjusted her apron with her hands and her head turned
slightly, very slightly, in the direction where the children were
"Do you feel sorry for them?" I asked.
She shook her head without removing her eyes from the bread.
"No, but I was thinking of what happened in our life before."
How incomprehensible! As one who awakens from a long sleep, she
surveyed the room with her eyes and all seemed to her so
incomprehensible. Was this the place where we had lived?
"You were my wife."
"And there are our children."
"Here, beyond the wall, your father died."
"Yes. He died. He died without awakening."
The smallest child, frightened at something in her sleep, began to
cry. And this simple childish cry, apparently demanding something,
sounded so strange amid these phantom walls, while there, below,
people were building barricades.
She cried and demanded—caresses, certain queer words and promises
to soothe her. And she soon was soothed.
"Well, go!" said my wife in a whisper.
"I should like to kiss them."
"I am afraid you will wake them up."
"No, I will not."
It turned out that the oldest child was awake—he had heard and
understood everything. He was but nine years old, but he understood
everything—he met me with a deep, stern look.
"Will you take your gun?" he asked thoughtfully and earnestly.
"It is behind the stove."
"How do you know? Well, kiss me. Will you remember me?"
He jumped up in his bed, in his short little shirt, hot from sleep,
and firmly clasped my neck. His arms were burning—they were so soft
and delicate. I lifted his hair on the back of his head and kissed
his little neck.
"Will they kill you?" he whispered right into my ear.
"No, I will come back."
But why did he not cry? He had cried sometimes when I had simply
left the house for a while: Is it possible that IT had reached him,
too? Who knows? So many strange things happened during the great
I looked at the walls, at the bread, at the candle, at the flame
which had kept flickering, and took my wife by the hand.
"Well—'till we meet again!"
"Yes—'till we meet again!"
That was all. I went out. It was dark on the stairway and there
was the odour of old filth. Surrounded on all sides by the stones
and the darkness, groping down the stairs, I was seized with a
tremendous, powerful and all-absorbing feeling of the new, unknown
and joyous something to which I was going.