The Pushkin & Plyushkin Collecting House for Entirely Useful Things was founded at Valparaíso in 1911.
The first vague proposal for the undertaking is to be found in a letter by Mateo Plyushkin to his friend Leopoldo Pushkin:
“This is the sole manner in which one may enjoy both time and memories at once. It is impossible for small, miniature, almost unnoticeable, and ignored objects not to be concealed about the wardrobes, lofts, hidey-holes concealed in bookcases, about wine cellars, dairies, the top shelves of antique shops, about small jewellery shops, and about the workshops of artists and artisans – objects that even those who are not in love need. Objects without which no traveller or adventurer could afford to set off on a journey.”
As a sign of tacit assent for the undertaking, Leopoldo Pushkin replied by sending a transparent silver spoon for apple instants which he wrapped in paper he had personally cast and which, according to the claims of its Dubrovnik maker, with whom he had found it, would never fail to bring to one’s lips the taste of the first kiss with a beloved person.
Several months later, the enthusiastic and dynamic Mateo reported in a telegram:
“House duly registered. World mere springboard for imagination. Things visible when observed by two persons at once. We collect beautiful objects.”
The less effusive and more reserved Leopoldo answered in telegraphese:
“Naturally. Only entirely useful things.”
The two then scoured the world. They spent years collecting those books and objects and paintings and maps and good luck charms which were the same as imperceptible punctuation signs in good stories, yet which – one knows not why – nobody ever paid any attention to. They knew that a missing punctuation sign changed intonation, and that a story could often be compressed in a breath or else in a surprising yet properly placed period mark.
They managed the Hoarding House remotely and never assembled the hired staff to introduce themselves. Busy with constant travel and expeditions, they failed to attend the opening of offices across North Africa, Prague, and the Orient.
They never had a precise idea about their finances, for they never spent money on anything other than aeroplane tickets or ferry tickets or steamship tickets or train tickets, on guides and on caravans of mules or camels or horses or ponies, or else on canoes in parts of the world otherwise difficult to access. They travelled together exceptionally rarely.
When they would hear of the appearance of a touchingly necessary thing anywhere in the world, the two would intuitively decide which one of them would track it down and acquire it. On occasion, they crisscrossed continents in opposite directions in search of the same item, learning of this only when they found the time to compare notes, drawings, and marked maps. They sent most of the discovered items carefully wrapped and furnished with the appropriate instructions to the Valparaíso Head Office.
They never overcame the rumours, and probably never considered it worthwhile rising to them, that theirs was a small, secretive, entirely unsellable hoard of entirely useful things which they were keeping to themselves. The truth was different and as entirely unacceptable to onlookers as any truth.
As the years rolled by, and through laziness rather than by design, they began collecting personal letters, drawings, and etchings which they felt they had failed to understand correctly, or else which they had failed to examine properly upon receipt. They placed them in boxes, as they did small objects and items that mattered to every traveler and adventurer, and which would otherwise dwell in their pockets, or would be twirled between their fingers until the complete disappearance of the silver or timber or whatever other material they were made of. The boxes also contained pieces of coloured paper upon which were recorded happenings and stories and chance words and unknown words that explain what is invisible.
Uncorroborated rumours state that the legendary friendship that formed the basis of their collecting passion rested upon their shared love for the same woman. Both of them calmly denied, inasmuch as such a thing is deniable at all, that one of the faces of beauty could possibly be female.
Over the years, they succeeded in discovering kindred souls who took up the work of the offices opened in diverse parts of the world. Yosifidius Yo. sought and collected objects and stories in the Middle East, George Horasius did the same in the Alps, while Atanas Hranov and Aleksandar Sekulov tirelessly toured the Orient. The last-named did not exert themselves overmuch, preferring to sit at the table and talk mostly about themselves. Often, they would cheat and send to Valparaíso not things that they had tracked down with zeal, but rather objects and stories that they had made up themselves. Mateo and Leopoldo did not always spot the counterfeit, but even if they did, they accepted it tacitly, for in the Orient truth has thousands of faces, each of which, apart from being entirely credible, is also indescribably exciting