MY FAVOURITE SHORT STORIES
Part 3 – MISERY
There are times when you want to talk to someone. You want to unburden yourself of your sorrows, you want to cry on someone’s shoulder, you want to tell someone your sob story, you desperately want to talk to someone and you realize that there is no one willing to listen to you. Whenever I am overwhelmed by such moments, a beautiful short story by Anton Chekhov comes to my mind. The Story is called MISERY. The story depicts the overwhelming grief of a distraught father who has just lost his only son and his forlorn attempts to share his anguish with strangers.
The grief-stricken father wants to tell someone about his son, describe every last detail of his son's illness to his death and funeral. He wants to tell someone of all these things yet no one will listen. At the end of the day, the heartbroken man unburdens his sorrows by talking to his horse. He pours his heart out to his little white mare. Unlike the human beings he has fruitlessly tried to talk to, his faithful horse listens to his sorrow and commiserates, or so it seems to him. And having found a sympathetic listener, the despairing father tell his horse everything to lighten himself of his inner pain.
The story takes a powerful look at the lack of human involvement and compassion towards one man's grief.
Iona tries unsuccessfully, three times, to find an outlet to his pain. Only resorting to the faithful ear of his horse, does Iona reach resignation from the death of his son. After having read "Misery," the harshness of human behavior , one is forced to take an introspective look at one's own attitude in regarding the sensitivity of others. Chekhov is a master at insightful studies of human behaviors. And even though his stories were written over a century ago, they are timeless classics, in that the moral value can still be carried on into our own present lives.
This famous story by Anton Chekhov is freely available for reading online on the internet. I have read translations of this story under many titles – Heartache, To Whom Shall I Tell My Sorrow and Misery. Given below is the link to Misery (To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief) by Anton Chekhov, and for your convenience I have pasted the story from the url below too for you to read.
To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief
The twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders, caps. Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off. . . . His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse. She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar gray landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to think.
It is a long time since
Iona and his nag have budged. They came out of the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But now the shades of evening are falling on the town. The pale light of the street lamps changes to a vivid color, and the bustle of the street grows noisier.
"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!"
Iona hears. "Sledge!"
"To Vyborgskaya," repeats the officer. "Are you asleep? To Vyborgskaya!"
In token of assent
Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends cakes of snow flying from the horse's back and shoulders. The officer gets into the sledge. The sledge-driver clicks to the horse, cranes his neck like a swan, rises in his seat, and more from habit than necessity brandishes his whip. The mare cranes her neck, too, crooks her stick-like legs, and hesitatingly sets of. . . .
"Where are you shoving, you devil?"
Iona immediately hears shouts from the dark mass shifting to and fro before him. "Where the devil are you going? Keep to the r-right!"
"You don't know how to drive! Keep to the right," says the officer angrily.
A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian crossing the road and brushing the horse's nose with his shoulder looks at him angrily and shakes the snow off his sleeve. Iona fidgets on the box as though he were sitting on thorns, jerks his elbows, and turns his eyes about like one possessed as though he did not know where he was or why he was there.
"What rascals they all are!" says the officer jocosely. "They are simply doing their best to run up against you or fall under the horse's feet. They must be doing it on purpose."
"What?" inquires the officer.
"H'm! What did he die of?"
"Who can tell! It must have been from fever. . . . He lay three days in the hospital and then he died. . . . God's will."
"Turn round, you devil!" comes out of the darkness. "Have you gone cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going!"
"Drive on! drive on! . . ." says the officer. "We shan't get there till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"
The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and with heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at the officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently disinclined to listen. Putting his fare down at Vyborgskaya,
Iona stops by a restaurant, and again sits huddled up on the box. . . . Again the wet snow paints him and his horse white. One hour passes, and then another. . . .
Three young men, two tall and thin, one short and hunchbacked, come up, railing at each other and loudly stamping on the pavement with their goloshes.
"Cabby, to the
!" the hunchback cries in a cracked voice. "The three of us, . . . twenty kopecks!" Police Bridge
"Well, drive on," says the hunchback in his cracked voice, settling himself and breathing down
Iona's neck. "Cut along! What a cap you've got, my friend! You wouldn't find a worse one in all . . . ." Petersburg
"He-he! . . . he-he! . . ." laughs
Iona. "It's nothing to boast of!"
"Well, then, nothing to boast of, drive on! Are you going to drive like this all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the neck?"
"My head aches," says one of the tall ones. "At the Dukmasovs' yesterday Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy between us."
"I can't make out why you talk such stuff," says the other tall one angrily. "You lie like a brute."
"Strike me dead, it's the truth! . . ."
"It's about as true as that a louse coughs."
Iona. "Me-er-ry gentlemen!"
"Tfoo! the devil take you!" cries the hunchback indignantly. "Will you get on, you old plague, or won't you? Is that the way to drive? Give her one with the whip. Hang it all, give it her well."
"This week . . . er. . . my. . . er. . . son died!"
"We shall all die, . . ." says the hunchback with a sigh, wiping his lips after coughing. "Come, drive on! drive on! My friends, I simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?"
"Well, you give him a little encouragement . . . one in the neck!"
"Do you hear, you old plague? I'll make you smart. If one stands on ceremony with fellows like you one may as well walk. Do you hear, you old dragon? Or don't you care a hang what we say? "
Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his neck.
"He-he! . . . " he laughs. "Merry gentlemen . . . . God give you health!"
"Cabman, are you married?" asks one of the tall ones.
"I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the damp earth. . . . He-ho-ho!. . . .The grave that is! . . . Here my son's dead and I am alive. . . . It's a strange thing, death has come in at the wrong door. . . . Instead of coming for me it went for my son. . . ."
Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they have arrived at last. After taking his twenty kopecks, Iona gazes for a long while after the revelers, who disappear into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again there is silence for him. . . . The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona's eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery. . . . His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona's heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight. . . .
"What time will it be, friend?" he asks.
"Going on for ten. . . . Why have you stopped here? Drive on!"
"Back to the yard!" he thinks. "To the yard!"
And his little mare, as though she knew his thoughts, falls to trotting. An hour and a half later
Iona is sitting by a big dirty stove. On the stove, on the floor, and on the benches are people snoring. The air is full of smells and stuffiness. Iona looks at the sleeping figures, scratches himself, and regrets that he has come home so early. . . .
"I have not earned enough to pay for the oats, even," he thinks. "That's why I am so miserable. A man who knows how to do his work, . . . who has had enough to eat, and whose horse has had enough to eat, is always at ease. . . ."
In one of the corners a young cabman gets up, clears his throat sleepily, and makes for the water-bucket.
"Want a drink?"
Iona asks him.
"May it do you good. . . . But my son is dead, mate. . . . Do you hear? This week in the hospital. . . . It's a queer business. . . ."
"Let's go out and have a look at the mare,"
Iona thinks. "There is always time for sleep. . . . You'll have sleep enough, no fear. . . ."
He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his mare is standing. He thinks about oats, about hay, about the weather. . . . He cannot think about his son when he is alone. . . . To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is insufferable anguish. . . .
"Are you munching?"
Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. "There, munch away, munch away. . . . Since we have not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay. . . . Yes, . . . I have grown too old to drive. . . . My son ought to be driving, not I. . . . He was a real cabman. . . . He ought to have lived. . . ."
"That's how it is, old girl. . . . Kuzma Ionitch is gone. . . . He said good-by to me. . . . He went and died for no reason. . . . Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were own mother to that little colt. . . . And all at once that same little colt went and died. . . . You'd be sorry, wouldn't you? . . ."
The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's hands.
Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.
Do reflect on this beautifully narrated yet profound commentary on human behavior. Though this story was written more than a hundred years ago, it is a timeless classics, relevant even today especially in our hectic yet lonely present-day lives.
Whenever I want to unburden myself and there is no one to talk to, I talk to my pet dog Sherry. She always listens, with understanding and empathy, and I feel my pain ease, my distress dissolve away, and soon I am in a good mood. Try sharing your sorrows with your pet. It works. You can take my word for it.
Dear Reader, I hope you like this series on MY FAVOURITE SHORT STORIES. I look forward to your comments and feedback. I am sure you have read Parts 1 and 2 – in case you haven’t here are the links:
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
Dear Reader, if you like reading short stories I am sure you will like the stories in COCKTAIL my recently published collection of 27 short stories about relationships. To know more, please click the link below:
About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures(2008) and is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune
with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts. India
Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
Vikram Karve Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/vikramkarve
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
Fiction Short Stories Book
Foodie Book: Appetite for a Stroll
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.