"What?" Korotkov exclaimed delightedly and, whistling the overture to Carmen, trotted along to a room with a notice saying "Cashier". By the cashier's desk he stopped open-mouthed. Two thick piles of yellow packets rose up to the ceiling. To avoid answering questions, the agitated and perspiring cashier had pinned up the cheque, which now bore yet another scrawl, this time in green ink.
"Pay in production produce.
"Preobrazhensky, p. p. Comrade Bogoyavlensky."
"I agree — Kshesinsky."
Korotkov left the cashier's office with a broad, stupid grin on his face. He was carrying four large yellow packets and five small green ones in his hands, plus thirteen blue boxes of matches in his pockets. Back in his room, listening to the hubbub of amazed voices in the General Office, he wrapped up the matches in two large sheets from that morning's newspaper and slipped out without a word to anyone. By the main entrance he was nearly run over by a car in which someone had just arrived, exactly who Korotkov could not see.
Back home he unwrapped the matches on the table and stood back to admire them. The stupid grin did not leave his face. After that Korotkov ruffled up his hair and said to himself:
"Come on, it's no good moping about all day. We must try to sell them."
He knocked on the door of his neighbour, Alexandra Fyodorovna, who worked at the Provincial Wine Depot.
"Come in," said a hollow voice.
Korotkov went in and stared in amazement. Alexandra Fyodorovna, also back early from work, was squatting on the floor in her coat and hat. In front of her stretched a long line of bottles containing a deep red liquid, stoppered with little balls of newspaper. Alexandra Fyodorovna's face was smudged with tears.
"Forty-six," she said, turning to Korotkov.
"Good afternoon, Alexandra Fyodorovna. Is that ink?" asked the astonished Korotkov.
"Have you been given communion wine as well then?" Alexandra Fyodorovna asked in amazement.
"No, we got matches," Korotkov replied weakly, twisting a button on his jacket.
"But they don't light!" exclaimed Alexandra Fyodorovna, getting up and brushing her skirt.
"What do you mean, they don't light?" Korotkov exclaimed in alarm and hurried off to his room. There, without wasting a moment, he snatched up a box, tore it open and struck a match. It hissed and flared up with a green flame, broke in two and went out. Choking from the acrid smell of sulphur, Korotkov coughed painfully and struck a second one. This one exploded, emitting two fiery sparks. The first spark landed on the window-pane, and the second in Comrade Korotkov's left eye.
"Ouch!" cried Korotkov, dropping the box.
For a few moments he clattered about like a spirited stallion clasping his hand to his eye. Then he looked with trepidation into his shaving mirror, convinced that he had lost the eye. But it was still there. A bit red, though, and tearful.
"Oh, my goodness!" Korotkov said agitatedly. He took an American first-aid packet out of the chest of drawers, opened it and bandaged the left half of his head, until he looked like someone wounded in battle.
Korotkov did not turn the light out all night and lay in bed striking matches. He got through three boxes, out of which he managed to light sixty-three matches.
"The silly woman's wrong," muttered Korotkov. "They're fine matches."
By morning the room reeked suffocatingly of sulphur. At daybreak Korotkov fell asleep and had a weird, frightening dream. In front of him in a green meadow was an enormous live billiard ball on legs. It was so loathsome that Korotkov cried out and woke up. For a few seconds Korotkov thought he saw the ball there in the dim misty light, by his bed, smelling strongly of sulphur. But then it vanished. Korotkov turned over and fell fast asleep.