Rubbish Boy

by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Another Zamyatin “fairytale” for you, translated yesterday and this morning by me.

Why has it taken so long to get these out (no one is wondering)? Well, essentially, because I don’t think very much of them compared to the second volume as a whole, or Pyotr Petrovich and God in this one. But anyway, here they come now. More to follow.

* * *

They gave Petka a toy: blue eyes, small hands, silk curls, a variety of lace and stitching. And look how wonderful it is—squeeze hard, and it will say, “I—love—you”, and even roll its blue eyes. 

Play, Petka, play, and thank your parents: not everyone is given such toys. But no: the stupid boy has to get too smart. Plays one day, a second. On the third day, he wants to know: “Why does it do that with its eyes? Why does it smell so good? Why does it say ‘I—love—you’?” 

He cuts it open with a penknife, and gets the answer, why, what. But there is nothing interesting: for the languid eyes, some lead balls; under the pink satin (skin), rotten sawdust; for “I—love—you”, a rubber bladder with a pipe. 

Later the parents sew it back up sloppily, but it doesn’t work: doesn’t know how to say “I—love—you” anymore. 

They take it away from Petka: the stupid boy will only damage his toys. How many times has it been said? Toys are for playing with, and if you don’t want to play, you rubbish boy, give it to someone else. But he needs to look inside, needs to break it. 

“Don’t break it! Don’t break it! Don’t break it!” 

Serves him right. 



by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Translated yesterday and this morning by me. It’s been a while since we had one of these, so here you go!

* * *

Everyone knows what cherubim are: head and wings, that’s the whole of their being. So it is written in all churches. 

And grandmother had a dream: cherubim were flying in her room. They flapped their wings like swallows, fluttering just beneath the ceiling. She read them the Cherubikon, and any other prayer she remembered about cherubim, she read it—and they were all fluttering beneath the ceiling. 

She felt sorry for the cherubim. And she said to the nearest one: “Oh, father, won’t you sit down and rest? You must be quite worn out, always flying.” 

And the cherub, from above her, pitifully: “I would be glad to sit for a while, grandmother, but I have nothing with which to sit!” 

It is true: head and wings are the whole of their being. Such is their cherubic lot: they cannot sit down. 

In the ridiculous dream, the cherubim flutter over old grandma Russia. Their wings are quite worn out, they look down: they would like to sit for a while. But down there it is scary: bayonets gaze up at the cherubim from every direction. 

“Abolish laws—without exception.”

They are fluttering just beneath the ceiling, there is nowhere further to go, but they must keep going: such is their function as cherubim, to keep on fluttering. 

“Cut off heads with a guillotine.” 

“Oh, father cherub, won’t you rest, sit down?” 

“I would be glad to, grandma, but there is no way…” 

And soon the cherubim will spread their wings further. 

“Question on the rack. Lash with the whip. Tear apart the nostrils.” 

Poor cherubim, such is their unhappy lot: fluttering without rest in a ridiculous dream, butting their heads against the ceiling until their wings tire themselves out and they thunder downward headfirst. 

And below there are bayonets. 


Pyotr Petrovich

Another Zamyatin “fairytale”, from the collection Fairytales 1914-1917. Like “God”, from yesterday, this is — I believe — the first version in English. Translated just now, tonight, by me.

* * *

“Pyotr Petrovich” by Yevgeny Zamyatin

There is no one in the whole world smarter than Pyotr Petrovich: he thinks it all, he thinks it all, his nose runs and drips, and he thinks.

Pyotr Petrovich’s snot is purple, and his ancestry is Native American. And Pyotr Petrovich’s wife is Annushka, who is shaped like a hockey stick and speckled. Another month married.

And as the blind little heads of the first grasses hatch from the ground, Annushka begins to nest. She stops combing her hair, and gets all ruffled up, and staggers around clucking and moaning. Meanwhile, Pyotr Petrovich stands on one leg and thinks, and thinks: here are these eggs, with red freckles, and not today but tomorrow little chicks will pop out of them, yellow as a dandelion, downy as a dandelion.

“Well, how interesting!”

The speckled Annushka is minding her own business, sitting on the eggs in her clutch. A week goes by, and another. Annushka is getting worn out: she doesn’t drink, doesn’t eat, doesn’t get off that spot.

Pyotr Petrovich can’t wait.

“Well, how are you doing there?”

Annushka blushes:

“About as well as you’d expect. Only they haven’t grown their fluff yet. Another week’ll be needed.”

“We-ell: a week! You won’t manage it. I know how it goes with you women!”

There is no one in the whole world smarter than Pyotr Petrovich: he thinks it all, he thinks it all, he stands on one leg, and he thinks.

And Pyotr Petrovich decides: women are known to be slow and dim-witted. They need to think about things in our way, in the cock-turkey way.

He goes up to Annushka—one eye is squinting slyly: trouble!

“Come and have a drink, Annushka. There is fresh water in the tub, and I will look after the eggs without you.”

Annushka goes to drink, and Pyotr Petrovich goes to her clutch: egg—one egg, egg—another, egg—a third. Warm little chicks, breathing, by God! He rejoices. Time to get them out of their shells.

He starts breaking them out, and they are ugly, naked, flimsy, and most of their backside is still attached, veins, blood, to the eggshell. He begins ripping it off… Their guts stretch… He tries putting them back in the shell. They won’t go back.

Pyotr Petrovich recoils, his snot turns pale, and he looks with a gaping beak at the broken eggs and yellow heads hanging over the edge on unbearably long, thin necks. And they can hardly breathe.

Pyotr Petrovich flaps his wings—quickly, over the fence, before Annushka sees. He knows what women are like: with them, it is always trouble!



“God” by Yevgeny Zamyatin, from his first collection of fairytales
Translated last night by me

The kingdom was rich and ancient, famous for its female fertility and male valor. And the kingdom was placed in the gap between the oven and the wall at the house of the postman Mizyumin. There was a particular cockroach named Senka—the foremost troublemaker and rascal in the entire cockroach kingdom. Senka didn’t give the other cockroaches a moment’s peace; he sneezed at the old people; and he did not believe in God, he said, “No”. 

“How can you not believe? Your eyes are shameless. Why don’t you crawl out in the light and open those bulging bug eyes wide. Then see if you say no…”

“All right, I will,” Senka swaggered.

And one fine day, he did. He got out—and gasped. God was real! There he was, right there: formidable, unbearably enormous, in a pink chintz shirt, God…

And God, the postman Mizyumin, was knitting a stocking: he loved to make handcrafts in his spare time. Mizyumin saw Senka and was delighted: “Ah, beloved friend, cockroach from behind the oven, where did you come from, hello!”

Postman Mizyumin needed a friendly ear for, like Senka, he had no one to talk to.

“Well, brother Senka, I’m getting married. My bride is first rate. You understand, in your cockroach soul: the girl is from a noble family, and the dowry is a hundred and fifty rubles! Oh and we’ll begin to live with you! Shall we live together, Senka? Eh?”

Senka’s eyes bulged with emotion and he forgot all words.

Mizyumin’s wedding was to take place atop a red hill, and the noble bride ordered him to buy new galoshes before the wedding. It was a pure disgrace, for Mizyumin was wearing his father’s leather skrobyhaly, size fourteen. As soon as Mizyumin hit the street, the urchins would follow him:

“Eh! Eh! Skrobyhaly! Skrobyhaly! Trade you! Skrobyhaly!”

Mizyumin knitted and knitted, and went to Trubnaya Square to sell his stockings and buy new galoshes. Goldfinches in a cage caught Mizyumin’s eye, a lovely sight.

“What if I buy these goldfinches instead? My galoshes are still sturdy…”

He bought the cage and presented it to his bride as a gift:

“Goodbye, knitted stockings—I sold them, and bought you these finches. Do not disdain a gift from a pure heart.”

“Wha-at? Stockings? And again in the skrobyhaly? Well, no-o, my patience is gone. Just think: marry a stocking maker! No-o, no, and say no more!”

She drove Mizyumin out of sight. He got plastered in a cheap tavern and went home drunk as a skunk, holding onto the walls…

And on the wall, the cockroach Senka was waiting for God: to listen with affection, like every evening, to what God had to say.

The postman Mizyumin sniffled bitter tears, his hand fumbling along the wall. And somehow, inadvertently, he touched Senka with a finger, sending him flying headlong into bottomless darkness.

Senka came to lying on his back. The banks were smooth and slippery, and at a terrible depth. Far above, barely visible, was the ceiling…

And Senka prayed to his god:

“Get me out, help me, have mercy!”

But no, at such a depth, God would probably not be able to reach it, and he, Senka, would perish.

…Sniffling bitter tears, Postman Mizyumin wiped his nose with the hem of his pink shirt.

“Senka, Senyushka, you are the only one left with me… And where have you gone… where am I to you, my de-ear…”

Mizyumin found Senka in his skrobyhal. With a finger he plucked Senka out of the abyss of the skrobyhal, size fourteen, and set him on the wall where he could crawl. But Senka couldn’t even crawl, he had lost the ability to think straight: how unbearably great God was, how merciful, how powerful!

And God, the postman Mizyumin, sniffled and wiped his nose with the hem of his pink shirt.


Translator’s note: I do not know what skrobyhaly are. If you do, please let me know, and I will update the text!


PICTURES by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Translated this morning by me

I came to visit a friend—to ask for a loan. He wasn’t at home, nor his wife: a boy came out to meet me in the hall. He was squeaky clean.

“Wait a little. Mom and Dad are coming back.”

And so that I wouldn’t be bored, the boy began to show me pictures.

“Well, this is what?”

“A wolf,” I said.

“A wolf, right. And you know, a wolf, it does not eat grass, it eats sheep…”

And in that way he meticulously explained all the pictures, until I was sick to death. He revealed a rooster.

“And what’s that?” he asked.

“That? It’s a hut,” I said.

My boy’s eyes bulged out, dumbfounded. After a while, he managed to find me a picture of a real hut.

“Well, what is this?”

“This is a birch broom, that’s what.”

The boy smiled politely and began to prove: a hut does not peck grains, but a rooster does, and you can’t live in a rooster, but you can live in a hut, and there are no doors on a broom, but a rooster…

“Listen here,” I said, “dear boy: if you don’t leave this minute, I’ll throw you out the window.”

The boy looked into my eyes and saw I really meant it—I would throw him out. He screamed and went to complain to his grandmother.

His grandmother came out into the hall and began to reproach me:

“How are you not ashamed, young man? He is such a sweet boy. After all, he told you the real truth.”