Find today’s 1562 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/012.html
It seems like young Chekhov went to the bird market in Trubnoy Square with a pen and paper, and wrote down his observations. There is no plot, just meandering conversations from bird, fish, and rabbit sellers and buyers to a footman trying to hock a lapdog for his bankrupt mistress. There is a line that recalls the mentality of story #5, “A Classical Student.” When a postal work tells of a story of different species trained to eat from the same bowl and not kill each other, he is told “An animal is like a man. A man’s made wiser by beating, and it’s the same with a beast.” Yes, forget education, beatings make you wiser!
Chekhov doesn’t seem to take much of a stand on anything, just a snapshot of a day on the square, “that little bit of Moscow where animals are so tenderly loved, and where they are so tortured…” Enjoyable reporting of people and animals, but not memorable.
I would like to think Chekhov was trying to make a forgettable walk through Trubnoy square memorable through his own observations. The story bounces between the bustling coats and fur caps who are busy selling lives unbeknownst to the casual passerby on the nearby boulevard. I was struck with how Chekhov’s descriptions of the various animals seemed to place them in a hierarchy analogous to a caste system of human design. After all, “an animal is like a man” even if the modern reader disagrees with the prescription for a beating to make us wise. The birds in particular each have value according to their verbosity, plumage, or personality. The lowest of the animals are the fish but we are told they “have a strong hold on life” despite living in a “veritable little hell.” The prospective buyers mingle with the biologic diversity like gods, capable of passing judgement by haggling for a better price. Indeed the passerby should take notice of exactly what they are buying and selling at Trubnoy square.