Today’s story has 1531 words and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/049.html
Today’s story seems like the most modern story we’ve had from Chekhov and I wonder if there were women like Anyuta in the student housing areas when he was a student. Anyuta lives with Stepan, a medical student, “in the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments.” We can’t help but feel sorry for her as she disrobes for Stepan so can mark ribs on her body, turning blue, but not protesting. And then later she is “borrowed” by an artist who needs a model. She doesn’t speak up for herself and she is treated like commodity, and not a highly valued one either. We find out that the 25-year-old has been shuttling between students over the past “six or seven years.” It seems to me that living with Stepan, she has hit the bottom of rung students who will take her in. (I’m sure sex is part of the rooming arrangement.) Her former “roommates” have done well as “[o]ne of them was living in Paris, two were doctors, the fourth was an artist, and the fifth was said to be already a professor.” She is frightened that Stepan might not pass his exams and she could be turned out. Much like an aging stripper who used to attract the best customers a few years earlier, she now lives in deplorable conditions and even has to provide her own coffee and tobacco as Stepan barely gives her notice. When she is thrown out the apartment, we see Anyuta’s dire poverty as all she owns in this world is her coat. It’s a sad, harsh world. She will never marry a student as they will use her while they are in school, only to graduate and wed “a real lady.” I hope she can find leave on her own accord and find something better.
Today’s story really struck close to home for me as it told of a 3rd year medical student, Stepan Klotchkov, cramming for an anatomy exam in “the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments”. Living with him was a 25 year-old “thin little brunette” named Anyuta who was busy with her embroidery. She was “working against time” to finish an order so that the money she made could buy tea and tobacco for Klotchkov. Indeed, her primary concern is meeting the needs of Klotchkov. She helps him study anatomy by removing her blouse and letting him outline her ribs with a crayon to better understand their spatial orientation. Standing motionless while he recites anatomic facts, she turns blue with cold but hides her shivering worried that if he noticed he might stop studying and fail his exam. “She said very little as a rule; she was always silent, thinking and thinking…” Thinking indeed…Klotchkov was not the first medical student she had lived with. In the six or seven years preceding the story, she had come to know 5 such students. Not all were medical students but all of them found a use for her in their studies. As she pondered her past, she reminded herself that Klotchkov, like the others, would someday forget her. Standing naked, an artist friend arrives requesting to “borrow” her for a painting he is doing of Psyche. In Roman mythology, Psyche was the human lover of Cupid (Eros). After many years suffering the abuses of a jealous Venus, Psyche is eventually granted the right by Jupiter to drink ambrosia so she can be united in marriage as equals with Cupid. Anyuta may desire such a fate with Klotchkov but she knows that after finishing their studies, all of the other students “had gone out into the world, and, of course, like respectable people, had long ago forgotten her.” Klotchkov is blind to her desire for a better life as he busily pursues his own through the promise of a future in the field of medicine where he can “drink tea in a large dining-room in the company of his wife, a real lady.” Pondering this and the assertion of the artist that an educated man is “duty bound to have taste” Klotchkov decides to part with Anyuta after the artist is finished with her. Gathering her meager belongings she begins to cry and only then does a shred of sympathy appear within Klotchkov…he decides to let her stay at least another week.
This story really struck a chord with me because I remember a time in my own life studying human anatomy in the first year of medical school. As a medical student, you are lucky to make enough on scholarship or through loans to live in a furnished apartment like Stepan and Anyuta. You endure lesser income during medical school, internship, and residency than that of your recently graduated college peers (engineers, lawyers, etc) for the sake of learning the medical profession and hopefully establishing a solid financial future upon graduation. In my own experience, I lived within walking distance of the medical school which, like most medical schools in America, meant that I lived in a poor inner-city neighborhood. I studied long into the night and was a frequent visitor to a 24-hour eating establishment where I became close friends with many of the waitstaff. They took good care of me, making sure I had plenty to eat and drink and even allowed me my own table in the back to spread out my books–an area forbidden to other patrons. They reminded me of my duty to never forget where I started and often expressed a sense of pride that they were contributing to my future success. The irony never escaped me that in a few short years my earning potential would dramatically outpace anything many of them could achieve in their lifetime. Unlike Stepan, I am very grateful to the time I had with each of them. As the four years of medical school went by, they became more trusting with their personal issues and for a few, I was the closest thing they had (or could afford) to a physician. There were many personal conversations in the round dining booth in the back of that restaurant. However, like Anyuta, we all knew the future was inevitable. I eventually would graduate and leave the booth for the next chapter in my life. I did have a chance a few years ago to revisit that restaurant. Of course, everyone I had known was gone and none of the new waitstaff were interested in the history that transpired in “the doctor’s booth”. I often wonder how many other Anyutas there are in the world or how many I may have inadvertently overlooked. I am more worried about how many Stepan’s there are in the world who blindly pursue their own success while ignoring the lives around them. I have come to believe that success in life is not from standing on the shoulders of giants but sitting and listening to the giant story that exists in each of us. If it is one thing I learned above all of the medical knowledge gained in that booth, it is that everyone has a story to tell and if you listen you just might learn something new about what it means to be human…and that is the most important thing for a doctor to know.