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The Skulls by Ivan Turgenev

 

A sumptuous, brilliantly lighted hall; a number of ladies and gentlemen.

All the faces are animated, the talk is lively.... A noisy conversation is being carried on about a famous singer. They call her divine, immortal.... O, how finely yesterday she rendered her last trill!

And suddenly—as by the wave of an enchanter's wand—from every head and from every face, slipped off the delicate covering of skin, and instantaneously exposed the deadly whiteness of skulls, with here and there the leaden shimmer of bare jaws and gums.

With horror I beheld the movements of those jaws and gums; the turning, the glistening in the light of the lamps and candles, of those lumpy bony balls, and the rolling in them of other smaller balls, the balls of the meaningless eyes.

I dared not touch my own face, dared not glance at myself in the glass.

And the skulls turned from side to side as before.... And with their former noise, peeping like little red rags out of the grinning teeth, rapid tongues lisped how marvellously, how inimitably the immortal ... yes, immortal ... singer had rendered that last trill!

April 1878.