Yesterday, I put all my eggs in one basket and counted my chickens before they’d hatched. These deeds put me in bad odour with the Eggs And Chickens Man who, when he came on his rounds in the afternoon, reprimanded me. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was foolhardy.
“I am sorry, tovarich,” I said, for I lived in the Soviet Union, at least within my head, “I felt strangely compelled to do both those things. I don’t know what came over me.”
He looked at me closely, the expression on his face an admixture of reproach, contempt, pity, disgust, superiority, compassion, bewilderment, nausea, menace, loathing, awe, rancour, spleen, pomposity, sympathy, empathy, and psychopathology. I did not like the way he was absent-mindedly swinging to and fro a huge gleaming razor-sharp butcher’s cleaver.
“Perhaps,” he said eventually, “You are a fool. Like those holy fools with whom your beloved Mother Russia used to swarm.”
“Oh no,” I said, “You’ve got the wrong Russia. I think you’ll find that holy fools were rife in the vast Russian countryside under the Tsar. My own preference is for the Soviet Union, from which such fools were eradicated.”
“Be that as it may,” said the Eggs And Chickens Man, “This is neither Tsarist Russia nor the Soviet Union, and your behaviour was that of a fool, foolish and foolhardy.”
I hate to be reminded that I do not actually live in the Soviet Union. I could feel hot tears welling up.
“Why don’t you pop inside?” I said, “There’s a piping hot samovar full of black tea, far too much for me to drink all by myself.”
He gave the cleaver another, more measured, swing, and I felt a sickening spasm in the bowels.
“I think not,” he said, “I have my rounds to do. I’ll be back tomorrow, and by then I’ll want to see that you’ve redistributed the eggs into several baskets and uncounted the chickens.”
“Uncounted?” I said, “How am I to uncount them, tovarich?”
“Stop calling me tovarich,” he said, “You are perfectly able to button the buttons on your cheap serge jacket, and then to unbutton them. The principle is the same.”
As he walked off along the lane, jauntily swinging the butcher’s cleaver, it occurred to me that I could use what had just happened as material for my work in progress, a novel written strictly according to the precepts of socialist realism. I went indoors, poured a cup of black tea from the samovar, and sat down at my escritoire.
Three hours later, I was still sat there, staring into space, my pen untouched, the paper blank, the black tea stone cold.