Short stories have always intrigued me. Of late my attention span has become so short that those are the only kind of stories I can relate with and appreciate.
Here’s an abridged version of ‘Grief’ by one of the greatest writers of short fiction, Anton Chekov.
It is twilight. Large flakes of snow are falling. A cab-driver, Iona, waits for a customer. He sits in his cab with his body bent as double as a living body can, immobilized by misery. ‘To whom shall I tell my grief?’
At last an officer arrives. Iona sets off in his cab with the officer at the back. He turns around to speak to him.
“My son…er…my son died this week, Sir.”
‘Hm. What did he die of?’
“It was a fever.”
Silence. Iona turns around again to find the officer nodding off.
As the evening progresses, Iona attempts to talk to someone three times. He tries to tell the story of his son’s death again and again. The second passenger, a high browed businessman interrupts Iona and says, ”We all must die one day.” Another man simply gets out of the sleigh. Later Iona tries to speak with a house porter but he brusquely tells him to drive on. Still later Iona offers one of his fellow drivers a drink but the young man promptly falls asleep. Just as the young man has been thirsty for water, Iona thirsts for speech. There is so much he needs to share.
“One must tell it slowly and carefully; how his son fell ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died. One must describe every detail of the funeral and the journey to the hospital to fetch the defunct’s clothes. His daughter Anisya remained in the village – one must talk about her too. Was it nothing he had to tell? Surely the listener would gasp and sigh and sympathise with him?”
Finally at the end of the working day, Iona returns to the stables. He starts to speak to his horse, “Now let’s say you had a foal, you were that foal’s mother and suddenly, let’s say that foal went away and left you to live after him. It would be sad. Wouldn’t it?”
The mare munches hay and breathes on her master’s hands. She doesn’t close her eyes, nor walks away, nor interrupts with her own wisdom on the matter. And it’s enough. Iona tells her everything.
At the risk of repeating myself, I tell the story I need to tell:
(Special thanks to Diane Morrow and her book: One Year of Writing and Healing)