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The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories

Oysters
I NEED no great effort of memory to recall, in every detail, the rainy autumn evening
when I stood with my father in one of the more frequented streets of Moscow, and felt
that I was gradually being overcome by a strange illness. I had no pain at all, but my legs
were giving way under me, the words stuck in my throat, my head slipped weakly on one
side . . . It seemed as though, in a moment, I must fall down and lose consciousness.
If I had been taken into a hospital at that minute, the doctors would have had to write
over my bed: Fames, a disease which is not in the manuals of medicine.
Beside me on the pavement stood my father in a shabby summer overcoat and a serge
cap, from which a bit of white wadding was sticking out. On his feet he had big heavy
goloshes. Afraid, vain man, that people would see that his feet were bare under his
goloshes, he had drawn the tops of some old boots up round the calves of his legs.
This poor, foolish, queer creature, whom I loved the more warmly the more ragged and
dirty his smart summer overcoat became, had come to Moscow, five months before, to
look for a job as copying-clerk. For those five months he had been trudging about
Moscow looking for work, and it was only on that day that he had brought himself to go
into the street to beg for alms.
Before us was a big house of three storeys, adorned with a blue signboard with the word
"Restaurant" on it. My head was drooping feebly backwards and on one side, and I could
not help looking upwards at the lighted windows of the restaurant. Human figures were
flitting about at the windows. I could see the right side of the orchestrion, two oleographs,
hanging lamps . . . . Staring into one window, I saw a patch of white. The patch was
motionless, and its rectangular outlines stood out sharply against the dark, brown
background. I looked intently and made out of the patch a white placard on the wall.
Something was written on it, but what it was, I could not see. . .
For half an hour I kept my eyes on the placard. Its white attracted my eyes, and, as it
were, hypnotised my brain. I tried to read it, but my efforts were in vain.
At last the strange disease got the upper hand.
The rumble of the carriages began to seem like thunder, in the stench of the street I
distinguished a thousand smells. The restaurant lights and the lamps dazzled my eyes like
lightning. My five senses were overstrained and sensitive beyond the normal. I began to
see what I had not seen before.
"Oysters . . ." I made out on the placard.
 
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