Bernstein, the translator, warily climbed the first of the fortynine steps that led to Misha’s room: he was on the lookout for spiders and rats. He stopped after the twentyfifth step and removed a lumpy handkerchief from his vest pocket. It was no small task for Bernstein to reach Misha’s room, and yet time after time he found himself standing at the bottom of the stairway looking at the monstrous fortynine steps.

  “Misha, Misha,” he mumbled plaintively to himself, and holding his swollen hand against his chest, he checked his heartbeat. A long furrow appeared at the back of his bald head. Bernstein was convinced that he was going to die before he reached the fortyninth step. He cursed himself for associating with publishers and poets. And he petitioned the devil to destroy the stairway.