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Daniel Kharms

It's funny in the Y2K
To shoot and think it'll be OK.

D.Kharms

Daniel Kharms (1906--1942) was a very original Russian writer. He is famous for his short stories to think much about, new, "alternative" style of composing prose and poems, and his funny stories quite different from the ones we hear every day from friends and read in newspapers -- from the ones to crack up as the last word is said. At the end of the 20th century some writers tried to continue and develop his style and ideas in the so-called Kharmsings, the stories about Russian rock artists of the early '90s written in Kharms' style.

Here is the translation of some of my favorite stories of his. I tried to make them as close to the original as possible.

May 2002

AN OLD LADY WHO WAS BUYING INK

Once upon a time there lived an old lady at 17 Crooked Street. There had been times when she lived there with her husband and son. But the son left that place having grown up, then her husband died, so the lady was left all alone.

She lived there quietly and peacefully, drinking tea from time to time, writing to her son, and doing nothing more.

In the house where she lived she was said to have fallen down from the moon.

Once she would go out in summer, look around, and say, "Oh dear, where is the snow gone?"

And her neighbors would laugh, "Where on Earth have you seen snow in summer? You look like you've fallen down from the moon."

Or she would go to an oil store and ask, "How much are French rolls?" The clerks, laughing, would answer, "Are you okay, ma'am? How can we have French rolls here? As if you've fallen down from the moon!"

So was the old lady!

Once it was really fine, sunny weather, not a single cloud in the sky. The air on Crooked Street became dusty. Street cleaners went out to water the street from hoses with brass tips. They were pouring out the water straight into the dust, and the dust was falling down with water. Now the horses were galloping upon the puddles, and the wind was blowing emptily with no dust.

In the gate of the house #17 appeared the old woman. She was holding an umbrella with a big smooth handle and wearing a hat with black sparkles. "Hey," she called the street cleaner, "do you happen to know where ink is sold?"

"What?" cried the man.

The lady stepped closer, "Ink!"

"Careful!" the street cleaner shouted, pouring out a flow of water.

The old lady rushed to the left, the jet to the left too.

The lady hastened right, the jet following her.

"Are you blind?" the street cleaner shouted, "Like you've fallen down from the moon, can't you see I'm watering the street?"

The old woman only made a wave with her umbrella and continued her way.

She came to the market and saw a guy selling a huge fleshy pike, long as an arm, thick as a leg. He held it flat on his hands, then took it by the nose, rocked a couple of times and let out but didn't let it fall down catching it skillfully by the tail, and then showed it to our lady.

"Here you are," he went, "only one ruble."

"No," the woman said, "I need ink...."

The guy didn't even let her speak.

"Take it," said he, "A real bargain."

"No," the woman said again, "I need ink...."

He started again, "Take this! Five pounds and a half," and pretending to be tired put the fish into the other hand.

"No," the lady persisted, "I need ink."

At last the feller could make out what the woman was saying.

"Ink?" he repeated.

"Yes, ink."

"Ink?"

"Ink."

"No fish?"

"No."

"So, ink?"

"Yes."

"You speak like you've just fallen down from the moon!" the guy said.

"So you don't have ink," the lady concluded and went forth.

"Meat please!" now the fat butcher yelled to the lady, cutting liver with his knife.

"Do you have ink?" the woman inquired.

"Ink!!" roared the butcher, dragging the carcass of a pig by its leg.

The lady hurried away from the butcher, for he seemed too big and cruel to her, and now a saleswoman was yelling to her, "Here please! Please here!"

The old woman came up to the stall and put on her glasses. The saleswoman, smiling, offered her a jar of plums.

"You'll never find anything like this," she said.

Our woman took the jar with plums, held it for a while, and put it where it had been.

"I need ink, and not plums," she said.

"What ink, red or black?"

"Black."

"I don't have black."

"Then red will do."

"I don't have red either."

"Goodbye," said the old lady and went away.

The market was already through, and no ink so far.

The lady left the market and went along some street.

Suddenly she witnessed the scene: fifteen donkeys were moving slowly along one by one. The front donkey was being ridden by a man with a big banner in his hands. The other animals had people on them as well, and they all were holding banners.

"What's that??" the lady thought, "Now donkeys must have replaced streetcars."

"Hey!" she addressed this to the front man, "Wait a bit. Can you tell me where ink is sold?"

The man must have missed the old lady's words and did not answer, but raised a strange tube instead, narrow at one end and wide at the other, like a bell. He put the narrow one at his mouth and suddenly shouted there, just at the old lady's face, and so loudly that people seven miles away could hear:

COME AND SEE DUROV ON TOUR IN THE STATE CIRCUS! IN THE STATE CIRCUS! SEA LIONS, THE FOLKS' MOST FAVORITE! ONLY THIS WEEK! TICKETS BY THE ENTRANCE!

Our lady was so horrified that even dropped her umbrella. She picked it up but her hands were shaking with terror so severely that she dropped it again.

She picked up the umbrella and gripped it tightly, and hurried along the road from one street to another and got to the third one, very wide and very noisy.

The people were hurrying somewhere, and the road was filled with moving cars and roaring streetcars.

The lady had hardly made an attempt to cross the road when -- tarrrr-rarararar-rarar-rrrrrrr! -- a car passed by.

The old lady had let it pass and scarcely stepped on the road when she heard, "Careful!" a cabman yell to her.

She let it pass as well and ran across, to the opposite side. She reached the middle and -- jen-jen! ding-ding-ding! -- a streetcar was coming on.

She was about to step back, but -- prrrr-prrr-prrrrr! -- a motorcycle cracked right behind.

The lady was completely scared, but luckily there appeared a young man who gripped her by her hand and said, "What are you doing here? Like you've fallen down from the moon. You could be run over!" And he led her to the opposite side.

The lady got her breath back and wanted to ask the yound man about ink, and she turned back to see he was already gone.

She went her way leaning on her umbrella and looking around trying to find someone to inquire about ink. There turned to be an old man with a walking stick coming up toward her. So old, his hair gray. The lady approached him, "You must be very experienced and know much, do you know where to buy ink?"

The old man stopped walking, raised his head, moved his wrinkles, and started thinking. After remaining in this position for a while he put his hand in the pocket to take out a pouch, cigarette paper, and a cigarette holder. Then rolled a cigarette slowly and having put it into the holder, put the pouch and paper back into the pocket, and drew a matchbox. This done, he lit his cigarette, put back the matches, and mumbled with his toothless mouth, "Ink ishooshashy shold in shtorsh."

The old lady understood nothing, and the man walked away.

The old lady plunged deep in thought.

Why could no one tell her anything about ink?

Did they never hear of ink?

And so she decided to go to a store and ask for ink.

There they must be aware.

And the store was just nearby. With big windows like walls. And with lots of books in them.

"That's the place," the old woman thought, "I'll call on here. Ink is most likely right here if they have so many books. Books are written with ink, aren't they?"

She came up to the door, it was made of glass and looked weird. She pushed it and at once was pushed from behind by something. Glancing backward she saw another glass door oncoming.

She rushed forward, the door persistently chasing her. Everything around was made of glass and revolving. Dizzy and feeling her head spinning around, she was going not knowing where. And there were doors and doors around her, and they all were revolving and pushing her forward.

Having spent quite a bit of time hanging around something that she even did not know what it was, the old lady made a great effort and released herself. Thanks God she was still alive.

She looked up to see a big clock and a staircase leading upward. There was a man by the clock. She came up to him and said, "Where can I ask for ink?"

The man did not turn his head to her but only pointed at some little lattice door.

The old lady opened the little door and came into the room which was so tiny, no more than a closet. There was a man in this room. She was just going to ask him about ink.....

Suddenly something inexplicable happened. Ding! jinnnnnnn! -- the floor started moving up.

The poor lady stayed petrified, not daring to make a move, and she felt like there was a rock growing inside her chest. She stood breathlessly.

She could see people's arms, legs, and heads through the door flashing by her eyes, and hear a noise like of a sewing machine. Then the noise stopped and she felt she could breathe again. Someone opened the door and said, "Come out, the sixth floor; you're on the very top, no way up."

Like in a dream, the old lady stepped where she was pointed, and the door closed behind her, and the closet went down.

The lady stood, the umbrella in her hand, getting her breath back. She was on a staircase, people walking around, the doors slamming.

She stayed there for some time, looking at the surroundings, and went through some door.

She got into a big, light room. There were desks in the room, and people at the desks. Some of them were writing on paper, some were typing at the typewriters. The noise was like in a smithy, although an artificial one that children played with.

On the right at the wall there was a sofa with two men on it, one of them being fat, the other thin. The fat man was telling something to the thin one rubbing his hands; the latter bending toward the former, was looking at him through a pair of glasses in a light frame and tying his shoelaces at the same time.

"Well," the fat man spoke, "I wrote a story about a boy who swallowed a frog. A very interesting story."

"And I still don't know what to write about," said the thin man getting the lace through the hole.

"And my story is very interesting," continued the fat man, "That boy came home and his father asked him where he had been, and the frog croaked in answer, 'Quah quah,' out of the stomach. Or at school, a teacher asked the boy what the German for 'good morning' was, and the frog answered, 'Quah quah quah!' Such a funny story," concluded the fat man and rubbed his hands.

"You wrote something too?" he asked the old lady.

"No," she said, "I have run out of ink. I had a can of ink from my son, and now it's all gone."

"And your son, is he a writer too?" asked the fat man.

"No," answered the lady, "He is a forest warden. And he doesn't live here. I used to take ink from my husband, but he died and I was left alone. Can I buy ink here?" suddenly said the lady.

The thin man tied up his shoelaces and looked through the glasses at the old lady.

"What, ink?" he asked surprisedly.

"Ink, to write with," explained the lady.

"Ink is not sold here," the fat man said and stopped rubbing his hands.

"How did you get here?" interested the thin one, rising from the sofa.

"I came here in a closet," said the old lady.

"What closet?" said the fat and the thin one simultaneously.

"The one that goes up and down by the staircase," said the lady.

"Ah! The elevator!" the thin man laughed, sitting down on the sofa again, for the shoelaces on his other boot now got untied.

"But why did you come here?" the fat man asked the lady.

"I couldn't find ink," she said, "I asked people but nobody knew. I saw books here and that's why I came. Books are written with ink, aren't they?"

"Ha ha ha!" the fat man laughed, "You are like you've fallen down from the moon onto the Earth!"

"Hey, listen!" the thin man suddenly jumped off the sofa. He still had his shoelaces undone, and they were hanging loosely upon the floor. "Listen," he addressed the fat man, "I got an idea. I'll write about an old lady who was buying ink."

"Right," said the fat man and rubbed his hands.

The thin man took off his glasses, breathed at them, wiped them with a handkerchief, put them on again and said to the old lady, "Tell us how you were buying ink and we'll write a book about you and give you ink."

After a moment of thinking the lady agreed.

And the thin man wrote the book:

AN OLD LADY WHO WAS BUYING INK.

D.Kharms

1928

THE BLUE ALBUM

#7

While traveling, don't let yourself fall into dreams, but make your imagination work and pay attention to every smallest thing.

#8

Sitting at the spot, don't swing your legs.

#10

Once there was a red-haired man who did not have eyes and ears. He did not have hair either, so we called him red-haired wrongly. He could not speak for he did not have a mouth. He did not have a nose either. He did not even have limbs. And a stomach, and a back, and a spine, and any guts, any of that he did not have. He did not have anything. So we do not know who we are talking about. We had better not speak of him anymore.

#13

One girl pronounced "gvya,"
Another girl pronounced "kfee,"
One more girl pronounced "mbru,"
And Smith cracked, cracked, and cracked cabbage from under the fence.
It was like evening coming,
Matthew got tired of playing with shit and went to bed.
It was drizzling.
Pigs were gobbling peas.
Raggy was peeping into the ladies' room.
Sam was sitting on Mary.
Mary in turn started dozing off.
The sky got dark. The stars began sparkling.
In the cellar rats killed a mouse.
Sleep my baby and don't be scared of stupid dreams.
Stupid dreams come from the stomach.

1937