The Embroidered Towel

Михаил Булгаков
The Embroidered Towel

Translated from the Russian by S.E. Torrens

If a person has never ridden on a tipcart over [1]wild, backcountry roads, then telling him about it is pointless: all the same he won’t understand. And for the person who has done it, well, I don’t want to remind him of it.

I’ll say briefly: It took a full 24 hours for the cart driver and I to travel the 40 versts [2] that separate the district town of Grachevka from Murya Hospital. It was uncanny how we arrived almost to the minute: At two pm on September 16, 1917 we were at the last silo on the edge of that most wonderful town of Grachevka and on September 17th of that same, unforgettable year at five minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon, I stood on dying grass, beaten down and sodden with September rains, in the courtyard of Murya Hospital. I stood in the courtyard, legs ossified, dazed, I mentally flipped through the pages of my text books, stupidly trying to recall, if such an ailment did indeed exist or if I had dreamt of it last night in the village of Grabilovka – that illness where a man’s limbs go rigid? What is its damned name in Latin? Each of my muscles ached with an intolerable pain, like that of a toothache. I won’t even mention my toes. They no longer moved in my boots, instead they lay peacefully, like wooden stumps. I confess, in a burst of disheartened passion I whispered curses on the medical profession and the entrance application I submitted to the University Rector five years ago. During this entire time, it drizzled from above as if through a sieve. My coat welled up like a sponge. With the fingers of my right hand, I futilely tried to grasp the handle of the suitcase and finally I spat on the wet grass in frustration. My fingers unable to grip anything, my mind, filled with all sorts of facts from interesting medical textbooks, I finally remembered the illness – palsy…

”Paralysis,” I desperately, the devil knows why, said to myself.

1A two-wheeled cart
2A vest is slightly more than a kilometer and about equal to 3/5 of a mile
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