“Man himself is in control,” was Bezdomny’s quick and angry reply to what was, admittedly, a not very clear question.
“I’m sorry,” replied the stranger in a soft voice, “but in order to be in control, you have to have a definite plan for at least a reasonable period of time. So how, may I ask, can man be in control if he can’t even draw up a plan for a ridiculously short period of time, say, a thousand years, and is, moreover, unable to ensure his own safety for the next day? And, indeed,” here the stranger turned to Berlioz, “suppose you were to start controlling others and yourself, and just as you developed a taste for it, so to speak, you suddenly went and…well…got lung cancer…”- at which point the foreigner chuckled merrily, as if the thought of lung cancer brought him pleasure. “Yes, cancer,” he repeated, narrowing his eyes like a cat as he savored the sonorous word, “and there goes your control! No one’s fate is of any interest to you except your own. Your relatives start lying to you. You, sensing that something is wrong, run to learned physicians, then to quack, and maybe even to fortune-tellers in the end. And going to any of them is pointless, as you well know. And it all ends tragically: that same fellow who not so long ago supposed that he was in control of something ends up lying stiff in a wooden box, and those present, realizing that he is no longer good for anything, cremate him in an oven. Why even worse things can happen: a fellow will have just decided to make a trip to Kislovodsk,” – here the foreigner narrowed his eyes at Berlioz, “a trivial matter, it would seem, but he can’t even accomplish that because for some unknown reason he goes and slips and falls under a streetcar! Would you really say that that’s an example of his total control over himself? Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that someone other himself is in control?” – and at this point the stranger laughed a strange sort of laugh.
“You haven’t by any chance spent some time in a mental hospital, have you?”
“Ivan!” softly exclaimed Mikhail Alexandrovich.
But the foreigner was not the least bit insulted and he burst out with a hearty laugh.
“I have indeed, I have indeed, and more than once!”
said the face in a voice suited to anniversary celebrations.
“Comrade Bezdomny, forgive me,” he replied, turning red and edging away, already regretting that he had gotten involved in the affair.
“No, I’ll forgive anyone but you,” said Ivan Nikolayevich with calm hatred.
The poet had wasted his night while others were feasting and now he realized it could never be brought back. He had only to raise his head from the table lamp up to the sky to realize that the night was gone forever. The waiters were hurriedly pulling the tablecloths off the tables. The tables cats nosing about the veranda had a morning look about them. Day was bearing down on the poet with full force.
“And by the way,” said Fagot, pointing at Bengalsky, “this fellow is getting to be a bore. He keeps butting in when nobody asks him to and spoiling the performance with his bogus comments! What should we do with him?”
“Tear off his head!” came a stern voice from the balcony.
“What did you say? What was that?” said Fagot, responding to the ugly suggestion. “Tear off his head? Now that’s an idea! Behemoth!” he screamed to the cat, “Do it! Eins, zwei, drei!!”
Then an incredible thing happened. The cat’s black fur stood on end, and he let out a spine-tingling “meow.” Then he shrunk into a ball and like a panther, lunged straight at Bengalsky’s chest, and from there leapt onto his head. With a low growl, the cat stuck his chubby paws into the emcee’s greasy hair, and with a savage howl, tore the head off its thick neck in two twists.
“I agree with you completely, said the actor firmly. “And I ask you, what sorts of things are planted on people?”
“Babies!” shouted someone from the floor.
“Absolutely right,” affirmed the emcee. “Babies, anonymous letters, proclamations, time bombs, and a lot of other things, but four hundred dollars isn’t one of them because nobody’s that stupid.”
“Never ask for anything! Not ever, not for anything, especially from someone who’s more powerful than you are. They will offer and grant everything themselves.”