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Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday

Monday Starts on Saturday 15


  In the “Nursery” we elbowed our way through a crowd of curious onlookers and saw Professor Vybegallo sitting at the laboratory table, absolutely naked. His bluish-white skin glistened damply, his wet wedge-shaped beard drooped limply, and his wet hair was glued to his low forehead, on which an actively volcanic pustule blazed bright red. His empty, transparent eyes blinked occasionally as they roamed senselessly around the room.

  Professor Vybegallo was eating. On the table in front of him steam was rising from a large photographic developing tray, filled up to the top with steamed bran. Without paying any particular attention to anyone else, he scooped the bran up with his broad palm, kneaded it in his fingers like pilaf, and dispatched the resulting lump into the cavity of his mouth, sprinkling his beard liberally with crumbs in the process. At the same time he crunched, squelched, grunted, and snorted, inclining his head to one side and grimacing as though in immense delight. From time to time, without stopping his swallowing and choking, he would get excited and grab hold of the edges of the tub of bran and one of the buckets of skim milk that were standing on the floor beside him, every time pulling them closer and closer to himself. Standing at the other end of the table, pale and tearful, her lips trembling, was the pretty young trainee witch Stella, with her pristine pink ears. She was slicing loaves of bread in immense slabs and presenting them to Vybegallo, turning her face away from him. The central autoclave was open and there was a wide green puddle surrounding it.

  Vybegallo suddenly muttered indistinctly, “Hey, girl . . . er . . . give me some milk! Pour it . . . you know . . . right in here, in the bran . . . S’il vous plaît . . .”

  Stella hastily snatched up the bucket and splashed skim milk into the tray.

  “Eh!” exclaimed Professor Vybegallo. “The crock’s too small, you know. You, girl, whatever your name is . . . er . . . pour it straight in the tub. We’ll eat, you know, straight from the tub.”

  Stella began emptying the bucket into the tub of bran, and the professor grabbed the tray like a spoon and began scooping up bran and dispatching it into his jaws, which had suddenly opened incredibly wide.

  “Phone him, will you!” Stella shouted plaintively. “He’ll finish everything in a minute!”

  “We have phoned him already,” said someone in the crowd. “But you’d better move away from him. Come over here.”

  “Well, is he coming? Is he coming?”

  “He said he was just leaving. Putting on his galoshes . . . you know . . . and leaving. Come away from him, I told you.”

  I finally realized what was going on. It wasn’t Professor Vybegallo, it was a newborn cadaver, a model of Gastrically Unsatisfied Man. Thank God for that—there I was thinking the professor had developed palsy as a result of his intensive labors. Stella cautiously moved away. People grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into the crowd. She hid behind my back, clutching my elbow tight, and I immediately straightened up my shoulders, although I still didn’t understand what the problem was and what she was afraid of. The cadaver guzzled. The lab was full of people, but an astonished silence reigned and the only sound that could be heard was the cadaver snorting and munching like a horse and the scraping of the tray on the walls of the tub. We watched. He got down off his chair and stuck his head into the tub. The women turned away. Lilechka Novosmekhova began to feel unwell, and they took her out into the corridor. Then Edik Amperian’s clear voice spoke up: “All right. Let’s be logical. First he’ll finish the bran, then he’ll eat the bread. And then?”

  There was a movement in the front rows. The crowd pressed toward the doors. I began to understand. Stella said in a thin little voice, “There are the herring heads as well . . .”

  “Are there a lot of them?”

  “Two tons.”

  “Riiight,” said Edik, “And where are they?”

  “They’re supposed to be delivered by the conveyor,” said Stella. “But I tried and the conveyor’s broken.”

  “By the way,” Roman said loudly, “I’ve been trying to pacificate him for two minutes now, with absolutely no result.”

  “Me too,” Edik.

  “Therefore,” said Roman, “it would be a very good idea if one of the more squeamish among us were to try to repair the conveyor belt. To give us a bit of time. Are there any of the masters here? I can see Edik. Is there anybody else? Korneev! Victor Pavlovich, are you here?”

  “He’s not here. Maybe someone ought to go for Fyodor Simeonovich?”

  “I don’t think there’s any need to bother him yet. We’ll manage somehow. Edik, let’s try focusing on it together.”

  “What mode?”

  “Physiological inhibition mode. All the way down to tetanic contraction. All of you guys who can, give us a hand.”

  “Just a moment,” said Edik. “What happens if we damage him?”

  “Oh yes, yes,” I said. “You’d better not do that. Better just let him eat me instead.”

  “Don’t worry, don’t worry. We’ll be careful. Edik, let’s do it with rapid strokes. In a single flurry.”

  “OK, let’s go,” said Edik.

  It went even quieter. The cadaver was scrabbling in the tub, and on the other side of the wall the volunteers were talking as they fiddled with the conveyor. A minute went by. The cadaver pulled his head out of the tub, wiped his beard, looked at us sleepily, and suddenly, stretching out his arm an unbelievable distance, grabbed up the last loaf of bread. Then he belched thunderously and leaned back against his chair, folding his arms across his massive, swollen belly. Bliss flooded across his features. He snuffled and smiled inanely. He was undoubtedly happy, in the way an extremely tired man is happy when he finally reaches his longed-for bed.

  “Looks like it worked,” someone in the crowd said with a sigh of relief.

  Roman pressed his lips together doubtfully.

  “That’s not quite the impression I get,” Edik said politely.

  “Perhaps his spring’s run down?” I said hopefully.

  Stella announced plaintively, “It’s just temporary relaxation . . . an acute fit of satisfaction. He’ll wake up again soon.”

  “You masters are a useless waste of time,” said a manly voice. “Let me through there, I’ll go and call Fyodor Simeonovich.”

  Everyone looked around, smiling uncertainly. Roman was toying pensively with the plywitsum, rolling it around on his palm. Stella shuddered and whispered, “What’s going to happen? Sasha, I’m afraid!” As for me, I thrust out my chest, knitted my brows, and struggled with a compulsive urge to phone Modest Matveevich. I desperately wanted to shift the responsibility on to somebody else. It was a weakness, and I was powerless against it. Modest Matveevich appeared to me now in a very special light, and I recalled with a feeling of hope the master’s degree thesis someone had recently defended on the subject of “The Correlation Between the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Administration,” which attempted to demonstrate that by virtue of their specific inflexibility, administrative laws are frequently more efficacious than the laws of nature and magic. I was convinced that Modest Matveevich only had to turn up and yell at the upyr, “Now that’s enough of that, comrade Vybegallo!” for the upyr to decide it really was enough.

  “Roman,” I said casually, “I suppose that in an emergency you can dematerialize it?”

  Roman laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t be such a coward,” he said. “This is just a bit of fun and games. Only I don’t much fancy getting involved with Vybegallo . . . It’s not this guy you ought to be afraid of, but that one!” He pointed to the second autoclave crackling peacefully in the corner.

  Meanwhile the cadaver suddenly began stirring uneasily. Stella squealed quietly and pressed herself against me. The cadaver’s eyes opened. First he leaned over and glanced into the tub. Then he rattled the empty buckets. Then he froze and sat there for a while without moving. The expression of satisfaction on his face was replaced by an expression of bitter resentment. He half-raised himself out of his c
hair and sniffed the table rapidly, flaring his nostrils, then stretched out his long red tongue and licked up the crumbs.

  “Watch out now, guys,” someone whispered in the crowd.

  The cadaver stuck his hand into the tub, pulled out the tray, examined it from every angle, and cautiously bit off the edge. His eyebrows shot up in a martyred expression. He bit off another piece and began crunching it. His face turned blue as though from extreme exasperation and his eyes became moist, but he bit again and again until he had chewed up the entire tray. He sat there thoughtfully for about a minute, running his fingers over his teeth, then slowly ran his gaze over the motionless crowd. It was not a nice gaze; it seemed too appraising and selective. Responding automatically, Volodya Pochkin said, “Now then, calm down . . .” And then the empty transparent eyes locked on to Stella, and she let out a howl, that same blood-curdling howl bordering on ultrasonic frequencies that Roman and I had already heard in the director’s waiting room three stories below. I shuddered. It embarrassed the cadaver too: he lowered his eyes and began drumming nervously on the table with his fingers.

  There was a noise in the doorway, everybody squeezed together, and Ambrosius Ambroisovich Vybegallo, the real one, came walking through the crowd, pushing aside the dawdlers and pulling the icicles out of his beard. He smelled of vodka, a coarse cloth overcoat, and frost.

  “My dear fellow!” he yelled. “What is all this? Quelle situation? Stella, what are you . . . er . . . thinking of! Where are the herrings? He has needs! And they’re expanding! You should read my works!”

  He approached the cadaver and the cadaver immediately started sniffing him. Vybegallo gave him his coat.

  “Needs have to be satisfied!” he said, hastily clicking the switches on the conveyor’s control board. “Why didn’t you give him them straightaway? Oh, always les femmes, les femmes! Who said it was broken? It’s not broken at all, it’s bewitched. So, you know, not just anybody can use it, because . . . er . . . everybody has needs, but the herrings are for the model.”

  A little window opened in the wall, the conveyor started muttering, and a stream of fragrant herring heads poured straight out onto the floor. The cadaver’s eyes glittered. He went down on all fours, trotted smartly over to the little window, and got to work. Vybegallo stood beside him, clapping his hands, crying out in delight, and just occasionally, overcome by his feelings, scratching the cadaver behind the ear.

  The crowd sighed in relief and began shuffling about. It turned out that Vybegallo had brought with him two correspondents from the regional newspaper, our old acquaintances G. Pronitsatelny and B. Pitomnik. They also smelled of vodka. They blitzed away with their flashguns, taking photographs and making notes in their little books. G. Pronitsatelny and B. Pitomnik specialized in science. G. Pronitsatelny was renowned for the phrase “Oort was the first to glance up at the starry sky and notice that the galaxy rotates.” He was also the author of a literary account of Merlin’s journey with the chairman of the district soviet and an interview (conducted out of ignorance) with one of Oira-Oira’s doubles. The interview was called “‘Man’ with a Capital Letter” and began, “Like any genuine scientist he was sparing with words . . .” B. Pitomnik was parasitical on Vybegallo. His militant essays on self-donning footwear, carrots that were self-pulling and self-loading-into-trucks, and other projects undertaken by Vybegallo were well known throughout the district, and his article “The Wizard from Solovets” had even appeared in one of the major national magazines.

  When the cadaver’s next acute fit of satisfaction set in and he dozed off, Vybegallo’s lab assistants, who had turned up after being dragged away from their festive New Year’s tables and were not in a very friendly mood, hastily dressed him in a black suit and shoved a chair underneath him. The journalists stood Vybegallo beside him, put his hands on the cadaver’s shoulders, pointed their lenses at him, and asked him to continue.

  “What is the most important thing of all?” said Vybegallo, readily complying. “The most important thing is for man to be happy. Let me observe in parenthesis: happiness is a human concept. And what is man, philosophically speaking? Man, comrades, is Homo sapiens, the creature who can achieve and who desires. He can achieve everything that he desires, and he desires everything that he can achieve. N’est-ce pas, comrades? If he—that is, man—can achieve everything that he desires and desires everything that he can achieve, then he is happy. This is how we shall define him. What is this that we have here before us, comrades? We have here a model. But this model, comrades, desires, and that is already good. Exquis, excellent, charmant, so to speak. And again, comrades, you can see for yourselves that it can achieve. And that is even better, because . . . because in that case it—he, that is—is happy. There is a metaphysical transition from unhappiness to happiness and this comes as no surprise to us, because people are not born happy, they . . . er . . . become happy. Thanks to proper care and attention being paid. Look, now it’s waking up . . . it desires. And therefore for the moment it is unhappy. But it can achieve, and this ability can produce a sudden dialectical leap. There, there! Look! See how it can achieve! Oh, you little darling, my happy little one! Look! Look! See how well it can achieve. It can achieve for a whole ten or fifteen minutes . . . You there, comrade Pitomnik, put down your little camera and pick up the movie camera, because here we have a process . . . everything we have here is in motion! For us the state of rest is relative, as it ought to be, and movement is absolute. Indeed so. Now it has achieved and it is making the dialectical transition to happiness. To satisfaction, that is. Look, it has closed its eyes. It is delighted. It feels good. I can tell you quite scientifically that I would gladly change places with it. At the present moment, of course . . . You, comrade Pronitsatelny, write down everything I say, and then give it to me. I’ll straighten it out and put in the references . . . There, it’s dozing now, but that’s not all there is to this process. Our needs must grow and expand in depth as well as in breadth. Otherwise, you know, the process will not be correct. On dit que Vybegallo is supposedly against the world of the mind. That, comrades, is a crude label. It is high time for us, comrades, to forget such manners in scientific discussion. We all know that the material comes first and the spiritual comes afterward. Satur venter, as we all know, non studet libenter.1 Which, with regard to the present case, we can translate thus: a hungry fox is always thinking of bread.”

  “The opposite way round,” said Oira-Oira.

  Vybegallo stared vacantly at him for a short while, then said, “Comrades, we shall dismiss that undisciplined remark from the audience with the contempt it deserves. Let us not be distracted from the main thing—from practice. Let us leave the theory to those who have not yet mastered it sufficiently. To continue, I now move on to the next stage of the experiment. Let me elucidate for the press. Proceeding from the materialist idea that the temporary satisfaction of material needs has taken place, we may proceed to the satisfaction of spiritual needs. That is, watching films and television, listening to folk music or singing it yourself, and even reading some kind of book or, let’s say, the magazine Crocodile or a newspaper . . . Comrades, we do not forget that you have to possess the abilities for all of this, whereas the satisfaction of material needs does not require any special abilities—they are always present, for nature follows materialism. As yet we can say nothing about the spiritual abilities of this particular model, insofar as the rational core of its being is gastric dissatisfaction. But we will now identify its spiritual abilities.”

  The morose laboratory assistants laid out a tape recorder, a radio, a film projector, and a small portable library on the tables. The cadaver cast an indifferent eye over these instruments of culture and tried the magnetic tape to see how it tasted. It became clear that the model’s spiritual abilities would not manifest themselves spontaneously. Then Vybegallo gave the order to commence what he called the forcible inculcation of cultural skills. The tape recorder began crooning sweetly, “My darling and I parted, sw
earing eternal love . . .” The radio began whistling and hooting. The film projector began showing the cartoon The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats on the wall. Two laboratory assistants holding magazines stood on each side of the cadaver and began reading out loud across each other . . .

  As was only to be expected, the gastric model remained absolutely indifferent to all this racket. Just as long as it wanted to gobble it couldn’t give a damn for its spiritual world, because its desire was to gobble and it could achieve that desire. But when it was sated, it totally ignored its spiritual world, because it was feeling drowsy and for the time being it didn’t want anything else. Even so, the sharp-eyed Vybegallo managed to spot an undeniable connection between the beating of a drum (on the radio) and a reflex twitching of the model’s lower extremities. This twitching threw him into raptures of delight.

  “The leg!” he shouted, grabbing hold of B. Pitomnik’s sleeve. “Film the leg! In close-up! La vibration de son mollet gauche est un grand signe. That leg will sweep aside all their machinations and tear away all the labels that they hang on me! Oui, sans doute, a man who is not a specialist might perhaps be surprised by my reaction to that leg. But after all, comrades, all the great things are manifested in small things, and I must remind you that the model in question is a model with limited needs—to be specific, only one need, and to put it simply, our way, calling things by their own names, without any of these veiled hints: it is a model of gastric need. That is why it is so limited in its spiritual needs. Let me elucidate for the press, using a clear example. If, let us say, it were to have a strongly pronounced need for the given ‘Astra-7’ tape recorder for 140 rubles—which need must be understood by us as material—and if it were to acquire that tape recorder, then it would play the tape recorder in question, because, as you know yourselves, there is nothing else you can do with a tape recorder. And if it were to play it, then it would be with music, and if there is music, then you have to listen to it and perhaps dance . . . and what, comrades, is listening to music, either dancing or not dancing? It is the satisfaction of spiritual needs. Comprenez-vous?”