‘Minute Doses of Yellow Powder’ by Antonetta Behr

Polyov, a retired roué, failed poet and, as it happens, capable jazz pianist, is making ends meet as a cleaner of discretion at boutique museums around Moscow. He enjoys the Bulgakov Museum because he gets paid his full day rate for cleaning its three small rooms, which, even when exercising his customary diligence and respectful care, takes him no more than two hours. One evening, behind the radiator next to Bulgakov’s desk, Polyov notices a faint golden luminescence. Grasping his feather duster, he gets to his knees to investigate further and discovers, spreading outward from the corner pipe, a large spongiform growth. There is a haze before him. His eyes begin to sting. Polyov reckons that he will need a knife to prise the thing off. He snorts in the effort of rising to his feet. The room expands hugely, all his many aches and pains vanish from his body, his anguishes and confusions from his mind. Polyov hears…he becomes aware…of a permeating melody of impossible beauty, a delicate but persistent, strangely rhythmic, perfume of roses is everywhere. Using his army knife, he carefully removes the growth from the wall and places it in a spare, clean, handkerchief. Replete with an unaccustomed altruism, Polyov runs down the stairs and into the street where he catches a cab to the Rublyovskaya Water Treatment Station. Evading the, not insubstantial security, Polyov arrives at the central inflow reservoir into which he crumbles a small piece of the golden sponge… I keep my, alas dwindling, supply in a lacquered box I acquired in the Ocean Breeze Bed & Breakfast in Tramore in 1978 around the time of its total destruction in a fire with the loss of six lives.