Translation:Rat on a Tray

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Rat on a Tray  (1917) 
by Arkady Timofeevich Averchenko, translated from Russian by Wikisource
Translation started with Google Translate

I was asked, “would you like to go to an exhibition of a modern art?”

So I said, “Yes, why not.”


- So here is this new exhibition? - I asked.

- That's it.

- It looks good.

Hearing these words, two lanky young men with a fine pink rash on their faces and graceful wooden spoons in their buttonholes, approached me and asked eagerly:

- Seriously, do you really like our exposition?

- To tell you frankly?

- Yes!

- I'm delighted.

Immediately I felt indescribably pleasant feeling of two sweaty hands touching my arm and a deep excitement in the contemplation of a small piece of matting, which had a blue five-legged pig painted on it.

- Is it your pig? - I asked.

- My friend's. Do you like it?

- Extremely. Particularly the fifth leg. It gives the animal a manly appearance. Where are the eyes?

- It has no eyes.

- True. Why would a pig really need eyes? The fifth leg is there - and that's enough, isn't it so?

Young people, with a wonderful shade of pink rash on their foreheads and cheeks, stared incredulously at my naïve facial expression. They immediately calmed down, and one of them asked:

- Maybe you would buy it?

- The Pig? With pleasure. How much?

- Fifty ...

It was evident that saying another word was difficult for the young man, because he did not know exactly which “fifty” - rubles, or coins? However, looking again at my sympathetic face, he smiled and said boldly:

- Fifty ... rubles. Even, or rather, sixty rubles.

- Inexpensive. I think if I hang it in the living room on the wall, it will be very good.

- Seriously, you want to hang in the living room? - said one of the young men, surprised.

- But it is a painting. How could I not hang it!

- Indeed so, this is a painting. And would you like to see another picture, “Twilight of necessity”?

- Yes, I'd like to.

- Please. It hangs there. You see, the picture of my friend, “Pig as Such”, is written in the old style, with paint, and I do not recognize paint, you know. It restricts.

- Indeed, I picked up. Nothing restricts a man like paint does. No use of it, as it just confuses and restricts. I knew a man who was so restricted by paint, that he had to move to another city ...

- What do you mean?

- Yes, very simple. Mildyaev is his name. Where is your picture?

- Here it hangs. Looks very fresh and clever, does it?


To give a credit to the young maestro with a pink rash, he has escaped paint in the most positive way: on the wall there hung a black metal tray, in the middle of which with some adhesive material a small dead rat was attached. On each side of it there was a piece of candy paper wrapping and four burned matches, forming a very pleasantly looking form of zigzag.

- It's a wonderful work. I have praised. And how much mood does it contain! ... “Twilight of necessity” ... Yes, indeed ... If you didn't tell me the name of this picture, I would have guessed myself: as they say, this is nothing but a “Twilight of necessity”! Did you catch the rat yourself?

- Yes.

- A beautiful animal. Pity that it's dead. Can I touch it?

- Please.

I sighed and patted the dead animal, saying:

- And what a pity that such a product is so fragile ... Any ordinary picture of Velazquez or Rembrandt can survive hundreds of years, but this masterpiece in two or three days is gone.

- Yes, - agreed the artist carefully looking at the rat. - It already seems to be disintegrating, and it's only hanging two days. Would you buy it?

- Yes, I really do not know - I looked doubtfully at the guy. - Where would it hang? In a dining room, for example?

- Hang it in the dining room – the artist agreed. - It is a kind of naturmort.

- What if one would refresh the rat every two or three days? Throw the old one away, and hang a new one?

- It's not very nice - frowned the guy. - It violates the creative self-determination of an artist. But what can we do about it! So, buying?

- Buying. How much do you want?

- How much would you give? Four hundred... - so he started, looked cautiously at me and finished with a sigh: - Four hundred ... coins.

- Ok, taking. And now I would like to buy something simpler. Something sort of ... inorganic.

- “American in Moscow” - would you take it? It's my work.

He pulled me towards a board on which there were nailed three tin pipes, a used can, scissors and a fragment of a mirror.

- Here is a sculptural composition: “American in Moscow”. In my opinion, I have succeeded in this little thing.

- Yes, and how! This thing can make anybody laugh in ecstasy. Indeed those who come to Moscow, the Americans, they are... you know... However, you are not without a temperament... To display an American as three pipes.

- No, the pipes are - Moscow! American actually is not present, but there are the traces of his stay, so to speak ...

- Oh, I see. A refined object of art. A massive lush of air. How much?

- Seven hundred. This will fit your office best.

- Seven hundred ... of what?

- Well, whatever, as long as it is in cash.


I was so touched by participation and a friendly attitude towards me of these two versatile, brilliant young people that I wanted in some way to repay them.

- Gentlemen I would like to invite you to a dinner at my house. As the representatives of a new miracle of art, which reveals to us, sunken and flabby, a boundless light and insight...

- Let's go, - agreed the two young men with spoons in their buttonholes and a pretty pink rash on their faces. - We are happy. We haven't been invited anywhere for a long time.

- Is it so? What a dull population. No, I am not like that. I bow to you my humble and thoughtless head, and loudly, directly, openly say: "Welcome!"

- I will go with you in a cab, - asked the first guy. - As, you know, I haven't got small change.

- Please! Will you go like this with a spoon in a buttonhole?

- Of course. Let some bloated philistines and rotten hypochondriacs laugh - we reveal ourselves as we find it necessary.

- Very simple - I agreed. - Everyone lives as he wants. Here I am, for example. You will find some part of my invitation a little bit original. But you are not like the others... Philistines and bourgeois!

- Oh, no. Originality does not surprise us.

- That's just it.


When we had arrived to my house, there were some guests already: about ten or twelve of my friends, who came to become better acquainted with the forerunners of a modern art.

- Meet each other, gentlemen. These my friends are old-fashioned people, we do not have to especially count with them, but what concerns you, dear young and flexible pioneers of art, I would ask to obey my house rules and laws. Undress, please.

- Yes, we have already removed the coat.

- Just undress further on.

The young men looked at each other in a confusion:

- And why is that?

- You will eat.

- But isn't it possible, possible to eat... in clothes?

- Now how do you imagine that? How without undressing is it possible to rub your body with raspberry jam?

- Why ... jam? Why?

- Yeah, so it should be. These are my customs. Everyone has his own habits, as they say. You throw a dead rat on a tray, two pieces of wrapping paper and say: this is a picture. Ok, so I agree. This is a picture. I have even bought it. “American in Moscow” - I have also bought it. This is your way. And I have also my own way of honoring young promising talents: I rub them first with a raspberry jam, sprinkle with confetti and glue to their cheeks two pieces of fly paper. Then seat them at a honored place. There you will be fed a special salad made from pieces of wallpaper, chopped toothbrushes and a warm vaseline. Doesn't it sound original? To drink, there is a lead lotion. So please be kind and take off your clothes. Is jam and confetti prepared already?

- No! We don't want it that way... You have no right ...

- Why?

- What kind of nonsense is this: take a living person, smear them with raspberry jam, sprinkle them with confetti! And to feed them wallpaper and vaseline ... is that acceptable at all? We protest. We thought that you were just inviting us to dinner, and you ... rub us with jam, give us chopped toothbrushes. It even looks like torture! ... It is inhumane. We will complain to the authorities.

- Complain? - I screamed furiously. - Did I complain to anyone when you sold me five-legged blue pigs and pieces of tin on a wooden board? Did I refuse? You said: we are self-determined. Ok! Self-determined, so be it. You were telling - I was listening. Now it's my turn ... I acted accordingly to your likes, I have tried to be understanding - and now you understand me. People, undress them! Who has the jam – rub it on. Keep their heads straight, I will feed them salad... Don't even attempt to run away, there is no escape. I'll show you the twilight of neccesity! You are self-determined - so I also want to determine myself...


The young men stood side by side in front of me on their knees, bowing hard at my feet and weeping.

- Mister, forgive us. Honestly, we never will do this again.

- Do what?

- That ... Such pictures...

- And why did you do it?

- Yes, we, mister, just thought: the public is ignorant, and wanted to create buzz, draw attention.

- And you, the second one, why did you hang a rat on a tray?

- I wanted to make it more appealing.

- Are you so unlearned, that to do something interesting, ordinary fantasy is not enough?

- Unlearned, mister. It is so; where do we get smart?

- Let us go, mister. We will go to our mother.

- Okay. Kiss my hand and apologize.

- Why kiss a hand?

- Otherwise I will undress you and smear you with jam! Well?

- Vasya, kiss you first... And then I will.

- Well, bless you both... Go.


The ambassadors of future art arose from their knees, shook dust off their trousers, removed the spoons from their button holes, thrusting them into their pockets, and timidly, one after another, walked out into a corridor.

In the corridor, while pulling on their coats back, I heard them whisper:

- Got into trouble! And at first I thought he was such a fool as the others.

- No, the guy has brains. I was frightened when he began to move towards me. I thought, what if he would suddenly hit me with the tray!

- Thankfully, we got off lightly.

- It was your rat that angered him. What did you really think - a dead rat hung on a tray?

- Well, nothing. Oh, at least you, please don't yell at me. I will throw the rat away, and will put an old shoe with a cigarette stub. It is more durable. Come on, Vasya, let's go, before they change their mind.

So they left, embraced with fear ...

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

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