Deal Me In is a short story reading challenge in which we read a short story a week using playing cards to organize and/or randomize the choice of story.
This week, I drew clubs, which means I read a story by Chekhov. That’s Anton Chekhov, not Ensign Chekhov. I turned to a story at random and landed on “Shrove Tuesday.” Appropriate, for the Lenten season. In case you don’t know, Lent is the forty days leading up to Easter, and Shrove Tuesday is another name for Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins (on Ash Wednesday).
“Shrove” isn’t a fancy word for “fat.” It’s the past tense of “shrive,” which means to confess, to impose a penance, and/or to grant forgiveness. On Shrove Tuesday, you eat up all the rich food in the house and your cleanse your soul and conscience.
This being Chekhov, I didn’t expect a plot. We get a “slice of life” of a Russian family: Father, Son, Mother, elderly dependents, the maid. The son struggles with his math, understanding the concept but not seeing the point. The father tries to explain but becomes muddled and keeps mixing up what he’s trying to explain with associated memories. The maid plops down at the gentry’s feet and mechanically asks forgiveness. They mechanically give it and ask for it in return.
When the son gets sleepy, the mother flies into a tizzy. She orders supper early, so he can stuff himself on the day before the fast of Lent.
Everyone is going through the motions. Everyone is doing what they “have” to do before the fast begins. They’ll keep the fast just as mechanically and meaninglessly, focusing on themselves, their rituals, and their bodies, with no thought for what the observances are meant to represent — not “observing” at all.
A WRITING PROMPT BASED ON MY POST: Write about people doing something meaningful without thinking about it.