At the end of 1921 three people were engaged in literature in the Republic: the old man (dramas; he turned out not to be Emile Zola, of course, but someone I didn't know), the young man (the old man's assistant, whom I didn't know either — poetry) and myself (who hadn't written a thing).
Historians, also note: ASS Lit. had no chairs, desks, ink, light bulbs, books, writers or readers. In short, nothing.
And me. Yes, I rustled up from nowhere an antique mahogany writing-desk. Inside I found an old, yellowing, gold-edged card with the words: "...ladies in semi-decollete evening dress. Officers in frock-coats with epaulettes. Civilians in uniform tail-coats, with decorations. Students in uniform. Moscow. 1899."
It smelt soft and sweet. A bottle of expensive French perfume had once stood in the drawer. After the desk a chair arrived. Then ink, paper, and finally a young lady, sad and pensive.
On my instructions she laid out everything that had been in the cupboard on the desk: some brochures about "saboteurs", 12 issues of a St. Petersburg newspaper and a pile of green and red invitations to a congress of provincial sections. It immediately began to look like an office. The old man and the young man were delighted. They clapped me on the shoulder affectionately and vanished.
The sad young lady and I sat there for hours. Me at the desk and she at the table. I read The Three Musketeers by the inimitable Dumas, which I had found on the floor in the bathroom. The young lady sat in silence, occasionally heaving a deep sigh.
"Why are you crying?" I asked.
In reply she started sobbing and wringing her hands. Then she said:
"I've found out that I married a bandit by mistake."
I don't know if anything could surprise me after these two years. But at this I just stared blankly at her...
"Don't cry. Things like that do happen."
And I asked her to tell me about it.
Wiping her eyes with a handkerchief, she told me she had married a student, enlarged a photograph of him and hung it in the drawing-room. Then a detective came, took one look at the photograph and said it was not Karasev at all, but Dolsky, alias Gluzman, alias Senka Moment.
"Mo-ment..." the poor girl said, shuddering and wiping her eyes.
"So he's gone, has he? Well, good riddance to him."
But this was the third day. And still nothing. Not a soul had come. Nothing at all. Just me and the young lady...
I suddenly realised today: ASS Lit. isn't plugged in. There's life overhead. People walking about. Next door too. Typewriters clattering away and people laughing. They get clean-shaven visitors too. Meyerhold's fantastically popular in this building, but he's not here in person.
We have nothing. No papers, nothing. I decided to plug ASS Lit. in.
A woman came upstairs with a pile of newspapers. The top one was marked in red pencil "For ASS Fine Arts".
"What about one for ASS Lit.?"
She looked at me in fright and did not answer. I went upstairs. To the young lady sitting under a notice that said "secretary". She listened to me, then looked nervously at her neighbour.
"That's right, ASS Lit..." said the first young lady. "There is a paper for them, Lidochka," said the second. "Then why didn't you deliver it?" I asked in an icy tone. They both looked worried. "We thought you weren't there."
ASS Lit. is plugged in. A second paper has arrived from the young ladies upstairs. A woman in a kerchief brought it. Asked me to sign for it in a book.
Wrote a memo to the Service Department: "Give me a car."
A man came two days later and shrugged his shoulders.
"Do you really need a car?"
"More than anyone else in this building, I should say."
I managed to find the old man. And the young one too. When the old man saw the car and I told him he had to sign the papers, he gave me a long look, ruminating.
"There's something about you. You should apply for an academician's food ration."
The bandit's wife and I started drafting an official claim for payment of salary. ASS Lit. was firmly plugged into the mainstream now.
N. B. My future biographer: all this was done by me.