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HAVE RESPECT FOR MATTRESSES, CITIZENS!





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"Liza, let's go and have dinner!"
"I don't feel like it. I had dinner yesterday."
"I don't get you."
"I'm not going to eat mock rabbit."
"Oh, don't be silly!"
"I can't exist on vegetarian sausages."
"Today you can have apple pie."
"I just don't feel like it."
"Not so loud. Everything can be heard."
The young couple changed voices to a stage whisper.
Two minutes later Nicky realized for the first time in three months of married life that his beloved liked sausages of carrots, potatoes, and peas less than he did.
"So you prefer dog meat to a vegetarian diet," cried Nicky, disregarding the eavesdropping neighbours in his burst of anger.
"Not so loud, I say!" shouted Liza. "And then you're nasty to me! Yes, I do like meat. At times. What's so bad about that?"
Nicky said nothing in his amazement. This was an unexpected turn of events. Meat would make an enormous, unfillable hole in his budget. The young husband strolled up and down beside the mattress on which the red-faced Liza was sitting curled up into a ball, and made some desperate calculations.
His job of tracing blueprints at the Technopower design office brought Nicky Kalachov no more than forty roubles, even in the best months. He did not pay any rent for the apartment for there was no housing authority in that jungle settlement and rent was an abstract concept. Ten roubles went on Liza's dressmaking lessons. Dinner for the two of them (one first course of monastery beet soup and a second course of phoney rabbit or genuine noodles) consumed in two honestly halved portions in the Thou-Shalt-Not-Steal vegetarian canteen took thirteen roubles each month from the married couple's budget. The rest of their money dwindled away heavens knows where. This disturbed Nicky most of all. "Where does the money go?" he used to wonder, drawing a thin line with a special pen on sky-blue tracing paper. A change to meat-eating under these circumstances would mean ruin. That was why Nicky had spoken so heatedly.
"Just think of eating the bodies of dead animals. Cannibalism in the guise of culture. All diseases stern from meat."
"Of course they do," said Liza with modest irony, "angina, for instance."
"Yes, they do-including angina. Don't you believe me? The organism is weakened by the continual consumption of meat and is unable to resist infection."
"How stupid!"
"It's not stupid. It's the stupid person who tries to stuff his stomach full without bothering about the quantity of vitamins."
Nicky suddenly became quiet. An enormous pork chop had loomed up before his inner eye, driving the insipid, uninteresting baked noodles, porridge and potato nonsense further and further into the background. It seemed to have just come out of the pan. It was sizzling, bubbling, and giving off spicy fumes. The bone stuck out like the barrel of a duelling pistol.
"Try to understand," said Nicky, "a pork chop reduces a man's life by a week."
"Let it," said Liza. "Mock rabbit reduces it by six months. Yesterday when we were eating that carrot entree I felt I was going to die. Only I didn't want to tell you."
"Why didn't you want to tell me?"
"I hadn't the strength. I was afraid of crying."
"And aren't you afraid now?"
"Now I don't care." Liza began sobbing.
"Leo Tolstoy," said Nicky in a quavering voice, "didn't eat meat either."
"No," retorted Liza, hiccupping through her tears, "the count ate asparagus."
"Asparagus isn't meat."
"But when he was writing War and Peace he did eat meat. He did! He did! And when he was writing Anna Karenina he stuffed himself and stuffed himself."
"Do shut up!"
"Stuffed himself! Stuffed himself!"
"And I suppose while he was writing The Kreutzer Sonata he also stuffed himself?" asked Nicky venomously.
"The Kreutzer Sonata is short. Just imagine him trying to write War and Peace on vegetarian sausages! "
"Anyway, why do you keep nagging me about your Tolstoy?"
"Me nag you about Tolstoy! I like that. Me nag you!"
There was loud merriment in the pencil boxes. Liza hurriedly pulled a blue knitted hat on to her head.
"Where are you going?"
"Leave me alone. I have something to do."
And she fled.
"Where can she have gone?" Nicky wondered. He listened hard.
"Women like you have a lot of freedom under the Soviet regime," said a voice in the last pencil box on the left. "She's gone to drown herself," decided the third pencil box. The fifth pencil box lit the primus and got down to the routine kissing. Liza ran from street to street in agitation.
It was that Sunday hour when lucky people carry mattresses along the Arbat and from the market.
Newly-married couples and Soviet farmers are the principal purchasers of spring mattresses. They carry them upright, clasping them with both arms. Indeed, how can they help clasping those blue, shiny-flowered foundations of their happiness!
Citizens! have respect for a blue-flowered spring mattress. It's a family hearth. The be-all and the end-all of furnishings and the essence of domestic comfort; a base for love-making; the father of the primus. How sweet it is to sleep to the democratic hum of its springs. What marvellous dreams a man may have when he falls asleep on its blue hessian. How great is the respect enjoyed by a mattress owner.
A man without a mattress is pitiful. He does not exist. He does not pay taxes; he has no wife; friends will not lend him money "until Wednesday"; cab-drivers shout rude words after him and girls laugh at him. They do not like idealists.
People without mattresses largely write such verse as:

It's nice to rest in a rocking-chair
To the quiet tick of a Bouret clock.
When snow flakes swirling fill the air
And the daws pass, like dreams, In a flock.

They compose the verse at high desks in the post office, delaying the efficient mattress owners who come to send telegrams.
A mattress changes a man's life. There is a certain attractive, unfathomed force hidden in its covering and springs. People and things come together to the alluring ring of its springs. It summons the income-tax collector and girls. They both want to be friends with the1 mattress owner. The tax collector does so for fiscal reasons and for the benefit of the state, and the girls do so unselfishly, obeying the laws of nature.
Youth begins to bloom. Having collected his tax like a bumblebee gathering spring honey, the tax collector flies away with a joyful hum to his district hive. And the fast-retking girls are replaced by a wife and a Jewel No. 1 primus.
A mattress is insatiable. It demands sacrifices. At night it makes the sound of a bouncing ball. It needs a bookcase. It needs a table with thick stupid legs. Creaking its springs, it demands drapes, a door curtain, and pots and pans for the kitchen. It shoves people and says to them:
"Goon! Buy a washboard and rolling-pin!"
"I'm ashamed of you, man. You haven't yet got a carpet."
"Work! I'll soon give you children. You need money for nappies and a pram."
A mattress remembers and does everything in its own way.
Not even a poet can escape the common lot. Here he comes, carrying one from the market, hugging it to his soft belly with horror.
"I'll break down your resistance, poet," says the mattress. "You no longer need to run to the post office to write poetry. And, anyway, is it worth writing? Work and the balance will always be in your favour. Think about your wife and children!"
"I haven't a wife," cries the poet, staggering back from his sprung teacher.
"You will have! But I don't guarantee she will be the loveliest girl on earth. I don't even know whether she will be kind. Be prepared for anything. You will have children."
"I don't like children."
"You will."
"You frighten me, citizen mattress."
"Shut up, you fool. You don't know everything. You'll also obtain credit from the Moscow woodworking factory."
"I'll kill you, mattress!"
"Puppy! If you dare to, the neighbours will denounce you to the housing authority."
So every Sunday lucky people cruise around Moscow to the joyful sound of mattresses. But that is not the only thing, of course, which makes a Moscow Sunday. Sunday is museum day.
There is a special group of people in Moscow who know nothing about art, are not interested in architecture, and do not like historical monuments. These people visit museums solely because they are housed in splendid buildings. These people stroll through the dazzling rooms, look enviously at the frescoes, touch the things they are requested not to touch, and mutter continually:
"My, how they used to live!"
They are not concerned with the fact that the murals were painted by the Frenchman Puvis de Chavannes. They are only concerned with how much they cost the former owner of the house. They go up staircases with marble statues on the landings and try to imagine how many footmen used to stand there, what wages were paid to them, and how much they received in tips. There is china on the mantelpiece, but they disregard it and decide that a fireplace is not such a good thing, as it uses up a lot of wood. In the oak-panelled dining-room they do not examine the wonderful carving. They are troubled by one thought: what used the former merchant-owner to eat there and how much would it cost at present prices.
People like this can be found in any museum. While the conducted tours are cheerfully moving from one work of art to another, this kind of person stands in the middle of the room and, looking in front of him, sadly moans:
"My, how they used to live!"
Liza ran along the street, stifling her tears. Her thoughts spurred her on. She was thinking about her poor, unhappy life.
"If we just had a table and two more chairs, it would be fine. And we'll have a primus in the long run. We must get organized."
She slowed down, suddenly remembering her quarrel with Nicky. Furthermore, she felt hungry. Hatred for her husband suddenly welled up in her.
"It's simply disgraceful," she said aloud.
She felt even more hungry.
"Very well, then, I know what I'll do."
And Liz blushingly bought a slice of bread and sausage from a vendor. Hungry as she was, it was awkward eating in the street. She was, after all, a mattress-owner and understood the subtleties of life. Looking around, she turned into the entrance to a large two-storeyed house. Inside, she attacked the slice of bread and sausage with great avidity. The sausage was delicious. A large group of tourists entered the doorway. They looked at Liza by the wall as they passed.
Let them look! decided the infuriated girl.

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