melting & burning


The Bathhouse – Zoshchenko
January 31, 2011, 12:04 am
Filed under: story | Tags: ,

I hear tell, citizens, they have some excellent bathhouses in America.

For example, a citizen just drives in, drops his linen in a special box, then off he’ll go to wash himself. He won’t even worry, they say, about loss or theft. He doesn’t even need a ticket.

Well, let’s suppose it’s some other, nervous-type American, and he’ll say to the attendant, “Goot-bye,” so to speak, “keep an eye out.”

And that’s all there is to it.

This American will wash himself, come back, and they’ll give him clean linen—washed and pressed. Foot-wrappings, no doubt, whiter than snow. Underdrawers mended and sewed. That’s the life!

Well, we have bathhouses, too. But not as good. Though it’s possible to wash yourself.

Only in ours, there’s trouble with the tickets. Last Saturday I went to one of our bathhouses (after all, I can’t go all the way to America), and they give me two tickets. One for my linen, the other for my hat and coat.

But where is a naked man going to put tickets? To say it straight—no place. No pockets. Look around—all stomach and legs. The only trouble’s with the tickets. Can’t tie them to your beard.

Well, I tied a ticket to each leg so as not to lose them both at once. I went into the bath.

The tickets are flapping about on my legs now. Annoying to walk like that. But you’ve got to walk. Because you’ve got to have a bucket. Without a bucket, how can you wash? That’s the only trouble.

I look for a bucket. I see one citizen washing himself with three buckets. He is standing in one, washing his head in another, and holding the third with his left hand so no one would take it away.

I pulled at the third bucket; among other things, I wanted to take it for myself. But the citizen won’t let go.

“What are you up to,” says he, “stealing other people’s buckets?” As I pull, he says, “I’ll give you a bucket between the eyes, then you won’t be so damn happy.”

I say: “This isn’t the tsarist regime,” I say, “to go around hitting people with buckets. Egotism,” I say, “sheer egotism. Other people,” I say, “have to wash themselves too. You’re not in a theater,” I say.

But he turned his back and starts washing himself again.

“I can’t just stand around,” think I, “waiting his pleasure. He’s likely to go on washing himself,” think I, “for another three days.”

I moved along.

After an hour I see some old joker gaping around, no hands on his bucket. Looking for soap or just dreaming, I don’t know. I just lifted his bucket and made off with it.

So now there’s a bucket, but no place to sit down. And to wash standing—what kind of washing is that? That’s the only trouble.

All right. So I’m standing. I’m holding the bucket in my hand and I’m washing myself.

But all around me everyone’s scrubbing clothes like mad. One is washing his trousers, another’s rubbing his drawers, a third’s wringing something out. You no sooner get yourself all washed up than you’re dirty again. They’re splattering me, the bastards. And such a noise from all the scrubbing—it takes all the joy out of washing. You can’t even hear where the soap squeaks. That’s the only trouble.

“To hell with them,” I think. “I’ll finish washing at home.”

I go back to the locker room. I give them one ticket, they give me my linen. I look. Everything’s mine, but the trousers aren’t mine.

“Citizens,” I say, “mine didn’t have a hole here. Mine had a hole over there.”

But the attendant says: “We aren’t here,” he says, “just to watch for your holes. You’re not in a theater,” he says.

All right. I put these pants on, and I’m about to go get my coat. They won’t give me my coat. They want the ticket. I’d forgotten the ticket on my leg. I had to undress. I took off my pants. I look for the ticket. No ticket. There’s the string tied around my leg, but no ticket. The ticket had been washed away.

I give the attendant the string. He doesn’t want it.

“You don’t get anything for a string,” he says. “Anybody can cut off a bit of string,” he says. “Wouldn’t be enough coats to go around. Wait,” he says, “till everyone leaves. We’ll give you what’s left over.”

I say: “Look here, brother, suppose there’s nothing left but crud? This isn’t a theater,” I say. “I’ll identify it for you. One pocket,” I say, “is torn, and there’s no other. As for the buttons,” I say, “the top one’s there, the rest are not to be seen.”

Anyhow, he gave it to me. But he wouldn’t take the string.

I dressed, and went out on the street. Suddenly I remembered: I forgot my soap.

I went back again. They won’t let me in, in my coat.

“Undress,” they say.

I say, “Look, citizens. I can’t undress for the third time. This isn’t a theater,” I say. “At least give me what the soap costs.”

Nothing doing.

Nothing doing—all right. I went without the soap.

Of course, the reader who is accustomed to formalities might be curious to know: what kind of a bathhouse was this? Where was it located? What was the address?

What kind of a bathhouse? The usual kind. Where it costs ten kopecks to get in.


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