I never thought I’d ever say this, but I’m happy when I turn over a card in my Deal Me In deck and it’s a club.
My husband used to give me Chekhov stories to read, and I would be like, “This is a story? Where’s the story?” But now I know where the story is: The story is in the words. He doesn’t so much write a story by using words, he writes a story within the words. That doesn’t sound like it makes any sense, but I can’t say it any better than that.
Take this story, for instance:
The Bird Market
by Anton Chekhov
On the surface, this is one of those “Where’s the story?” stories. It’s just a description of a market where people are buying and selling animals: birds, fish, dogs, frogs. Live ones, not dead ones. It isn’t entirely clear whether most of these creatures are being bought for pets or for food, and it’s obviously all the same to the animals.
The utter lack of empathy displayed by almost all the humans in the piece is nauseating. One can’t help (I’m sure this was the author’s intent) identifying with the animals and thinking about unfortunate humans, trapped and exploited by people who have just as little empathy.
The only softness in the story comes after a footman makes what is perhaps the cruelest speech in the story as he tries to sell an old lap-dog, who whines at the situation:
“She told me to sell the nasty thing,” says the footman, with a contemptuous snigger. “She is bankrupt in her old age, has nothing to eat, and here now is selling her dogs and cats. She cries, and kisses them on their filthy snouts. And then she is so hard up that she sells them. ‘Pon my soul, it is a fact! Buy it, gentlemen! The money is wanted for coffee.”
But no one laughs. A boy who is standing by screws up one eye and looks at him gravely with compassion.
Looks at whom with compassion? I like to think it’s the lap-dog.
My god, it’s devastating!
At the end of the story, he pulls back from “where animals are so tenderly loved, and where they are so tortured,” and glances at “the business-like or pious people who pass by” and “cannot make out what has brought this crowd of people…; what they are talking about there, what they are buying and selling.”
The end. But, you know, not.
These stories are so rich in flavor, I’m glad I’m not trying to read them one after the other. I need time to recover in between. I may have to up my dosage, as it is, and well worth it. Intense!
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: Write about buying an animal.