Vladimir Dudintsev, Not by Bread Alone. 1956
Translated by Edith Bone
At high noon a train was pulling into the railroad station of Muzga. Snowdrifts had formed high ridges on both sides of the track and were piled up against the walls of the station building, right up to the sign showing the name of the station, “Muzga.” The snow-covered tops of the coaches floated past and came to a standstill. There was a bustle on the platform and then three men in felt boots and identical sheepskin jackets ran toward the end of the train, to the last coach, which was the sleeper from Moscow. They clambered into the coach, came into view again, and passed down case after case, all in gray covers… Suddenly a wind of curiosity seemed to blow across the platform; there was a faint murmur and hen all ran in the same direction and gathered in a dense crowd near the Pullman from Moscow.
“Who is it?”
“Drozdov. He’ll get out in a minute…”
“Here he is…”
Hardly anyone succeeded in catching a glimpse of the new arrival, because he whom they called Drozdov was of very small stature. But in contrast everyone could see the soft fur hat, and under it, the face of his companion, a beautiful gray-eyed woman, a full head taller than Drozdov.
The crowd moved back to the station building and melted away unsatisfied. Only a few, who had been quick enough in circling the station building, could see two troikas dash away into the distance with a squealing of sledge runners, away to the white, snowy edge of the steppe from which black smoke rose and billowed lopsidedly, covering one half of the sky with a dirty gray veil. There, beyond the distant snowline, it seemed as though a naval squadron were passing beyond a horizon that was the sea. The smoke came from a gigantic industrial plant built here during the war, sprawling over several miles, with buildings, shops, storage sheds, and railroad lines. In those first postwar years the kombinat did not figure on any map or in any geography book.
The general manager of the kombinat, Leonid Ivanovich Drozdov, or simply, Drozdov, as everyone called him in these parts, was returning from Moscow after having been summoned there by the Ministry. He had been accompanied on this journey by his young wife, from whom he had not parted for a single day since their marriage. Now they had come back, both well pleased – she with her shopping in Moscow and he with the way his affairs were going. A departmental head, who was his friend, had given him to understand that he might quite soon expect a transfer to Moscow, and this had long been Drozdov’s desire.
Two other managers whom Drozdov knew well differed from him on this point. They held that it was better to be the hub of the wheel in a factory than a mere spoke, even if it were in Moscow. Drozdov knew, but did not mind, that his material position as a departmental head would be somewhat less favorable than at present. He accepted the reduction in salary the change would entail; he had quite made up his mind about that. Nor did the prospect of less freedom worry him. “I shall always be myself,” he told himself. The difficulties that would arise in a job of a wider scope held no terrors for him – on the contrary, they attracted him. He even had a theory about it. He thought a man should never shirk growing pains, should always strive to rise higher and always feel slightly less than sufficient. A man’s job should always be a little beyond his powers. It was in such a situation, continually tensed, that men developed most quickly. And as soon as one began to be equal to the job, as soon as one had been praised once or twice – the thing to do was to move up into a region of fresh difficulties and then reach out once more, again seeking to keep up with the others.
“Yes, I built up this kombinat. What of it?” he thought, narrowing his eyes at the noise made by the sledge runners. “We didn’t do too badly during the war; we got a few banners and decorations. And now we are still keeping at top level. I’m fifty-two now… Three, four, five… Say thirteen more years to go… That’s quite a reasonable backlog. Quite reasonable. One can make a devil with horns in that time.”
The kombinat, like a great city gradually unfolding itself, seemed to advance toward him and hem in the steppe from the right and left. Five tall brick chimneys stood in the center, in a row, all of the same height and all five emitting a cloud of black smoke. Below it one could see many lesser clouds – gray, reddish or poisonously yellow. On one side stood the dark cooling tower of the evaporators, from which steep billows of vapor rose, gleaming a particularly pure white amid the black clouds. The whistles of the factory switch engines were already audible. The road was flanked on both sides by uniform small two-flat houses of white brick with steep slate roof houses built under the social-welfare scheme. Drozdov came out of his reverie, rose in his seat, and prodded the driver with his finger.
“Let’s walk, Nadia! Will you? Heavenly weather, isn’t it!”
The sledge stopped. Drozdov’s wife gathered up the sort rolls of her coat, bought six days before in Moscow, and stepped out on to the clean, not very deep, and dazzlingly bright snow.
“What wonderful snow!” she said in her gay, youthful voice. Drozdov lingered behind for a moment. He tore a hole in a large cardboard box, pulled out some bright-colored, very large oranges and distributed them in his various pockets. Then he waved to the driver and roughly stripping the peel off an orange, hurried to join his wife. Calmly she accepted the peeled sections of fruit and they walked on, enjoying the sunny winter day. Drozdov was short. He wore a shiny chocolate-brown leather coat with a collar of marbled karakul and a gray karakul cap to match. His wife was tall, with a look of perpetual sorrow lurking in her gray eyes and no color in her cheeks; but her lips were a bright rose, and she had a large velvety birthmark on her cheek. She was wearing a cap and a coat of light chestnut-colored silky fur; a broad-shouldered, expensive coat, which sat on her somewhat lopsidedly. She lagged behind continually, and Drozdov waited for her, each time holding a freshly peeled orange in his hand.
Nadia was pregnant. Drozdov, walking in front, screwed up his eyes and wrinkled his yellow dry-skinned forehead in the attempt to conceal a joyful smile. People passed the time of day with them, stepped off the path into the snowdrifts and stared at them, both while face to face with them and after they had passed. Leonid Ivanovich gave each passerby a look out of his tired, happy black eyes. He knew what these people would say later, behind his back, as they stepped from the snowdrift onto the path again: “He’s thrown one wife over – she was getting old. Now he’s got himself a young slip of a girl – and he is quite off his head about her!”
“Suppose I am off my head!” he thought. “Must one put up a show and live with a wife one never cared for and avoid meeting the woman one loves? Isn’t it simpler to do as I did?” he looked back at his wife and she smiled at him from under her little bonnet. “Particularly as our Shura says; Leonid Ivanovich was born to have two wives. He’s got two bumps on the top of his head.” He laughed as he recalled this and glanced again at his wife. “She is young!” he thought with pleasure. People’s stares did not trouble him. He felt no embarrassment at reaching only to her shoulder. True, Nadia always stooped slightly when she was walking with him, in order to appear less tall. This was already getting to be a habit with her.
They walked along like this, approaching and receding from each other, taking up the entire street, and nodding to or exchanging greetings with friends. Now and then school children went past with satchels and portfolios. The older ones stood aside and, interrupting each other, chanted: “Good morning, Nadezhda Sergeevna!” Nadia taught geography in the school. When the Drozdovs had passed, after a moment’s pause, the children made a rush for the orange peel trodden into the snow. With whoops of merriment and wonder they grabbed and pocketed the bright, scented marvels – no one had ever seen anything like orange peel in this steppe region which until quite recently had been at the back of beyond.
The Drozdovs lived close by, on Stalin Avenue. This was a wide road; its houses were also of the two-flat type, but had sheet-iron roofs and large windows. In Muzga it was said that the “top brass” of the combine lived in these houses. Drozdov’s house differed in no way from those of his neighbors, except that he was the sole occupant; both flats had been converted into one.
Drozdov entered the lobby after his wife, stamped his feet, and cleared his throat. The servant, Shura, a sturdy village girl, looked through the crack of the door and immediately opened it wide.
“Oh my, a new fur coat! Welcome, Leonid Ivanovich! Nadezhda Sergeevna, you must stand us one, to drink to your new coat! What is this fur? How soft it is!”
“It’s a foreign fur,” Drozdov said impressively, narrowing his eyes as he helped his wife to take off her coat. According to her custom, Nadia stooped a little as she stood before him. “It’s a fur from overseas; they call it mink.”
At these words Shura burst out laughing.
“Enough of that! Here, take it and hang it up in the wardrobe.”
Nadia took out her hatpins and went to her room, swaying as she walked. Drozdov, in his black suit, divested of his overcoat, looked thin. He had yellowish protruding ears. He hummed something indistinctly, rubbed his hands, and walked across the house, down a long passage, toward the kitchen.
“Mama!” he cried cheerfully. “Can’t you see we have arrived!”
“I see, I see!” his mother’s masculine voice answered from the kitchen. “Aren’t you a bit early?”
“Mother!” Leonid Ivanovich stopped at the door. His somewhat ironical gaze took in everything: the strings of onions hanging on the walls, the Russian stove and next to it the gas cooker with its cylinder of compressed gas, and near the door a low tub of sour cream half-covered with a cloth. “Mother!” He closed his eyes and stood a few seconds, then he slowly opened them – with him this was a sign of restrained annoyance. “Mother! What have you done with my Glazkov?”
“I sent him to Slobodchikov for some cream. Nadia needs fresh things. And now he is resting. The man was at the wheel forty-eight hours, after all.”
“That’s all right.” Drozdov’s gaze once more embraced the kitchen and came to rest on the tub with the sour cream. He kept his eyes shut for a long time and then, slowly opening them, said in a shrill, boyish voice: “All the same, don’t order the machine out without my permission. I shall leave orders at the garage – – ”
“Order away!” said the old woman, not looking at her son. “Go on! Give orders! Show that you are the master!”
Drozdov returned to the passage and went to the telephone.
“I want the dispatcher… Well, break the connection…” He sniffed sleepily into the receiver – this was another of his habits. “Alexander Alekseevich? … Here? This is Drozdov. Yes… Thank you. How are things with you? Y-yes… Has the fourth machine been fixed… And the furnaces?” Drozdov’s voice took on a threatening note. “It whistles? How d’you mean – whistles? What’s that? My respected comrade, suppose I was away, not ten, but twenty days, would the machine whistle for twenty days? It must be working, not in four days, but by the day after tomorrow… All right, don’t let’s argue… Yes, I’m coming down straight away… Hell…” said Leonid Ivanovich, and hung up.
But he calmed down and told Shura to tell all telephone callers that he was not in.
“Aren’t we getting anything to eat?” he shouted in the direction of the kitchen.
Three hours later he left the house carrying a large leather folder. At the gate a gray-green car was waiting. Drozdov seated himself beside the youthful driver Glazkov, and frowned; in an instant he appeared a different man. The car turned and twisted among the houses and stopped at a two-story high building, with large square windows. Still frowning, Drozdov climbed the steps, pushed open the glass door, and dragged slowly up the stairs along the passage, nodding as he passed to those he met. Everyone knew that the chief had arrived and a few people were already waiting in his anteroom. Drozdov entered his office, a spacious, high-ceilinged room with a large russet carpet crossed diagonally by a green runner. He was followed by his secretary, a woman with little make-up, wearing a tight skirt and a thin white blouse.
“Who is outside?” Drozdov asked, smoothing the hair on his temples and running his fingers over the double bump of his bald crown. He did have two bumps on the top of his head – a good omen!
“It’s the inventor. About those pipes.”
“Yes, yes. I remember. He can wait. Let Ganichev and Samsonov come in.”
The secretary went out, and Drozdov walked around his enormous desk. On it stood a glittering inkstand cast of Kaslinsk iron made out of the insignia of hetman’s power. There were two maces, a massive seal, the hetman’s flag, and some other heavy and significant-looking objects. Drozdov walked around this table and dropped into the armchair. Drawing his head between his shoulders a and clenching his hands together into a single, huge pale fist, he let them rest on the table in a gesture of expectation. But something seemed to cross his mind. He quickly changed his posture, picked up the receiver, moved some levers on a black appliance that looked like a large typewriter, and spoke in a sleepy voice to the workshop where the fourth machine was not working properly. At this moment Ganichev, chief engineer of the kombina, and Samsonov, secretary of party bureau, came in. Ganichev was very tall, stout, and clean-shaven. Over his blue suit he wore a work jacket of brown cotton. Samsonov, who was the same height as the general manager, wore an old army uniform without shoulder straps, and boots. Both men sat down in front of the managerial desk.
“Well,” Drozdovs said. “Here we are, comrades. What’s the news?”
“There is always some news or other, worse luck!” Samsonov said. Ganichev gave him an uncomprehending look.
“This is the news I have brought.” Drozdov opened the folder and showed a sheet of drawing paper covered with graphs and columns of figures. “In future our reports will be made in accordance with this schedule. I will pin it up straight away where everyone can see it.” Drozdov took a few drawing pins out of the hetman’s headgear, frowned and, in his creaking boots, walked to a yellow board on the wall. “I’ll pin it up like this” – he rose on tiptoe – “so that everyone can see.”
“Excuse me, Leonid Ivanovich.” The giant Ganichev hurried to him. “Permit me. I am a bit taller, if I may say so.”
“In such a case Napoleon would have said” – Samsonov threw himself back in his chair – “you, Ganichev, are not higher – only longer.”
He laughed loudly. Ganichev seemed not to hear, but Drozdov turned toward Samsonov, closed his eyes, and then slowly opened them. This was intended to express a controlled anger, but the amused glint in Drozdov’s black eyes did not escape Samsonov. The general manager had enjoyed his quip.
“Comrade Samsonov” – he raised his head and drew his brows severely together, laughing with his eyes only – “Comrade Samsonov, historical parallels are dangerous. Mind your step!”
An hour later Ganichev left. Drozdov, sitting comfortably at his desk, again clenched both hands into a single great fist and looked at Samsonov with raised eyebrows.
“What was that you said about Napoleon?”
Samsonov readily repeated it.
“Leonid Ivanovich!” He laughed. “May I tell you another funny thing?”
“Let’s hear it.”
“It’s about that fellow Maksiutenko, who has such a large family. Do you know what he got himself into? Auntie Glasha caught him in the drawing office with that girl from the planning department, that little Vera! During the midday break. Imagine! They had even locked themselves in!”
“Does his wife know?”
“No one knows as yet. I am still trying to decide what to do. I don’t feel like making a fuss; after all, he has three children. And there’s the wife. One feels sorry for her when one sees her. She is a good woman.”
“A good woman, you say?”
“Yes, really good. That’s just it!”
“I must scare him!” Drozdov pressed a button on the wall behind him. “He must be given a bit of a fright.”
The secretary came in.
“Call Maksiutenko to me.”
“But that inventor…”
“I know. Let him wait.”
“Then I’m off.” Samsonov got up.
“By rights it is you who ought to deal with such matters, with moral pressure.” Drozdov gave him a sharp, amused glance. “All right, all right, go.”
A minute later Maksiutenko, a bald, fair man with a high complexion, reddish eyebrows, and moist feminine lips, stood before the general manager.
“Ah! there you are! What are you staring at? Sit down, Comrade Maksiutenko… Tell me, how are you getting on with the pipe-casting machine? The Ministry will have my blood about it one of these days. Are you ever going to get that machine finished?”
Maksiutenko came to life. He spoke hurriedly:
“Leonid Ivanovich, everything the designers could do they have done. The improvements which were sent us have been passed on to the technical side.”
“Is that true?” Drozdov closed his eyes, as if tired, passed a finger over his dry, yellowish forehead, and asked, without opening his eyes: “What’s this mess you have got yourself into again – with that little Vera?”
Maksiutenko said nothing. Drozdov breathed deeply and evenly, with closed eyes, as if asleep. Then he half-opened his eyes, gave the pale, sweating designer a sorrowful look, and closed them again.
“You, as a member of the Party, ought to know that you won’t get any medals for a business like this,” he went on, as though in his sleep. “I thought, indeed I was convinced, that you would feel at least a spark of gratitude toward the man who twice” – here Drozdov opened angry eyes – “twice got you out of a tight spot. Now listen, Maksiutenko.” He came out from behind the desk and paced up and down on the carpet, not in a straight line but along an intricate curve, turning alternately, right and left. “There is something definitely wrong with you, young man. I would say you tend to misbehave yourself. I don’t suppose your wife knows anything about it, does she?”
“No, she doesn’t.” Maksiutenko spoke in a whisper, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief.
“And your wife is a very good woman. Now, what am I to do with you, you Don Juan. Be careful, for you only have one bump and not two on the top of your head. If you had two bumps, like me, here, look. One, two, you might have a second wife. And mind – a wife! A lawful wife! But look at what you are doing! And what shall I do with you. I have had an official report. Take a sheet of paper and write me an explanation. Sit down here and write. Here’s some paper and a pen.”
Half an hour later Drozdov, sitting at his desk, his large horn-rimmed spectacles on his nose, was reading Maksiutenko’s explanation.
“You are evading the issue, young man You are keeping some thing back.” He took off his spectacles, gave the designer a look of commiseration, and walked to the safe standing in one corner of the room. “I shall put it in there. If you get into a scrape again, I’ll make the whole lot public. Look, here are your old sins. Here is another of your apologies. Remember when you were drunk and lost the letter? Here it is, see! Go, and don’t forget: Drozdov has taken you in hand. He’ll see you through!”
Maksiutenko went out and the secretary came in again.
“Leonid Ivanovich, that inventor…”
“Is he still waiting? Well, let him come in.” Instead of the inventor it was Samsonov who entered. “Well, how did it go?”
“He blushed, as usual. Sit down here, I am seeing the inventor… Please come in.” This he was saying to a tall, lean man standing in the doorway. “This way, please.”
Samsonov sat down in an armchair and looked at the door. The inventor crossed the carpet with an even step and remained standing at the desk. He was wearing a military tunic, darned at the elbows, military breeches with frayed pale pink piping, and tidily patched shoes instead of boots. Everything was carefully cleaned and pressed. The inventor held himself straight, raising his head a little, and Drozdov noted at once the peculiar dignity of his whole bearing which is so attractive in a spare, soldierly figure. The man’s fair hair, long uncut, separating into two great locks, framed a tall forehead, cleft deeply by a single sharply defined furrow. The inventor was clean-shaven. For an instant one sunken cheek twitched in a nervous smile, but he quickly compressed his lips, and gazed mildly with his tired gray eyes at the general manager.
That mild gaze troubled Drozdov somewhat, and he lowered his own. The fact was that three years before the inventor had submitted to the inventions bureau of the kombinat a project or a machine for the centrifugal casting of iron drainpipes. The documents had been forwarded to the Ministry, some correspondence had ensued, and ever since, whenever Drozdov went to Moscow this very quiet, reserved, and to all appearances very persistent man came to see him, and asked him to hand a letter to the Minister, and somehow push this business. The present, most recent trip to Moscow had also been the occasion for a letter. But Drozdov, having taken the letter, as he had always done, this time had not put it in the Minister’s own hands, as the inventor had requested, but had given it to one of the young men sitting in the Minister’s waiting room – his first assistant. Drozdov had no idea had no idea whether this letter had reached the man to whom it was addressed, and he had not ventured to ask the Minister about it. Nor had he asked the assistant, because of the elusive insolence with which that young man conducted himself toward visitors, taking a long time over answering questions, and even turning his back on his interlocutor.
That was how the case had stood. But about six months before another obstacle had arisen: the Ministry had sent down the plans and specifications for another centrifugal machine proposed by a group of scientists and designers headed by a well-known scientist, Professor Avdiev. Instructions had been given to build this machine at once. By now, the work was already well in hand, standing irrevocably in the way of Lopatkin’s machine. Drozdov felt a little to blame. In the days when, for certain reasons, he had been in particularly close touch with the school in Muzga – where Nadia was a teacher – in those days, wishing to show the generosity of his nature, he had lightly promised the inventor to push his project. But in these three years he had done nothing at all. And now that this project of Professor Avdiev had cropped up – Avdiev who had for many years been regarded as an authority on centrifugal casting – Lopatkin’s project was irretrievably done for. On Avdiev’s side were knowledge and experience and an established organization, it had attracted attention, and – as a departmental head of a friend of Drozdov had expressed it – it “opened up perspectives.” Experience told Drozdov that one should never, even unintentionally, get in the way of influential people engaged in some project which “opened up perspectives.” Besides, it would be downright foolish to observe a quixotic neutrality in this matter at a time when the Ministry’s instructions demanding that the Avdiev machine be produced with the least possible delay were reason enough for him, Drozdov, to take sides with the Avdiev group. Of course Drozdov would long ago have informed Lopatkin of all that had already been decided in secret, had it not been for those sorrowful and confiding eyes, which made him feel uncomfortable and forget all his little tricks. Hence it cost him a very great effort to say what at last he now had to.
“Sit down,” he said, getting a little pale. “Samsonov, let me introduce Comrade Lopatkin; Dmitrii Alekseevich, if I am not mistaken?”
The inventor shook hands with Samsonov. Then he sat down and there was a long silence.
“What can I say to you?” Drozdov covered his face with his hands and remained so for some time. Then he took his hands from his face, rubbed them together, and locked them into one large fist, while he gazed at the inventor as though working something out in his mind. “Hmm, yes. Well, complete rejection. There it is, my dear fellow, no one supports you.”
Lopatkin made a gesture with his hands, as if to say: “It’s all my fault,” and got up to go. This was all he had come to find out. But Drozdov again said: “Er – yes – ” He had not finished what he had to say.
“I have read your complaints made to Shutikov.” His tone as he mentioned the deputy minister was casual. “Yes, I read them. Very witty. You had a little to say about me, too. Oh, it’s quite all right!” Drozdov smiled. “My feelings are not hurt. You are acting quite properly. The trouble is, you have one weak spot – you have no substantial grounds for complaint. I am under no obligation to promote your machine. Our kombinat is not meant to produce pipes. The drainpipes we are making are needed only for the Ministry’s own housing projects. They are only a drop in the ocean. You ought to have submitted the whole thing to the proper department and not to us. That was your biggest mistake, Comrade Lopatkin.”
The inventor said nothing, only clasped his hands over his massive knee. His hands were large and bony, with thickened joints on slender fingers.
“Your second mistake consists” – Drozdov wearily closed his eyes – “consists in being an individual on his own. The lone wolf is out of date. Our new machines are the fruit of collective thought. You will scarcely succeed in anything, no one will want to work with or for you. I have come to this conclusion after a thorough study of all the circumstances” – here he smiled sorrowfully – “of the question.”
“Yes, yes, I understand…” The inventor smiled, too, but his smile was sweeter: he understood the state of mind of the general manager and was anxious to relieve him first of all of the painful necessity of saying unpleasant things to a visitor. “You must excuse me, please…” He stood up with a resigned gesture. “To tell the truth, I got into this business by accident. Although I am a single individual, I am not doing this for myself… Thank you. Goodbye.” He gave a slight bow and walked to the door with firm, resolute steps.
“A broken man,” Drozdov remarked. “He wasn’t strong enough. He proved weak. Such men are broken by life.”
“I suppose so,” Samsonov agreed.
“Did you know that he was the physics master in our school? The one where Nadia teaches. So you see what a business it is! He’s a university graduate.”
“What if he is? Universities aren’t…”
“Oh, but his was Moscow university. You may not know it, but he is a genuine inventor. Has a patent, too. Certificates. When his authorship was acknowledged, Moscow immediately asked him to go there and work on the project. And there is a law about inventors: if you are summoned to work out your idea, you leave your old job and you get the same pay at your new one. So he went off to Moscow – ha-ha!” – Drozdov laughed so that he shook in his chair – “so off he went! And this is the second year he has been out of a job. They engaged another physics master here, and when he got there they gave him the sack. There had been no funds allocated. Now it’s clear who was behind it all. It was Vasilii Zakharych Avdiev. He himself has been tinkering with the same sort of thing for a long time. So ever since this one…”
“You should explain that to him. How can he pit himself against doctors,” added Samsonov, “and professors!”
“Of course not. But somehow I like him. He must be helped. Throw him a little coal perhaps.” Drozdov picked up the receiver. “I want Balashkin – Porfirii Ignat’evich, is that you? Listen: send some coal to this chap, this Lomonosov of ours, Lopatkin, on East Street. Yes, that’s the man. How much? Half a ton should be enough, I think! And a little firewood – about half a cubic meter. So-o, is that how it is! Well, I can’t be bothered with such things. I can’t be bothered. It’s your job. It’s you who are the fuel god… Write it off. In any case, let him have it today. See to it.”
Source: Vladimir Dudintsev, Not by Bread Alone (New York: Dutton, 1957), Chapter I.