Find today’s 2448 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/078.html
We’ve read a few old codgers from Chekhov, but Mihail Zotov might be the most pathetic. At first I suspected his ramblings were just rhetoric for a hidden love for his animals or as he sees them, dependents. And ultimately it was, but I didn’t expect (spoiler alert) his animals to be killed. Euthanasia has been practiced on farm animals and pets forever, yet because we meet both of them and they are so gentle, I didn’t expect them to die. (Perhaps this is my 20th/21st American media conditioning.) I’m not sure what kind of intervention I was expecting. Perhaps it was the most humane thing to do as leaving them “to die of hunger in the shed” as he journeys to his great-niece’s house is even crueler. The entire story builds up to the last paragraph which is told in reflection after the kills. We hear the death of the horse, and see the reaction of the dog, Lyska, who witnessed “the death of her friend.” That was a heart wrenching scene. I was stunned when Mihail sees “the two corpses, he went up to the stand, and put his own forehead ready for a blow.” That action made the story very poignant. He was nothing without his dependents and in a drunk state, he felt he should be put down as well. I’m ranking this high based on the surprises in the last paragraph.
Today’s story was a particularly heart-wrenching tale about end of life realities for an aging man of seventy and the only two creatures that cared for him. Zotov, the “decrepit and solitary old man of seventy”, awakens in his typical irritable mood and impoverished state to find his dog, Lyska, and his horse both yearning for attention as much as food. Complaining about their existence and threatening never to feed them again, he eventually leaves them to roam outside his gate while he visits a friend who owns a general shop. Once there, he asks his friend to give him oats instead of tea so that he may feed his horse. This contradiction in behavior shed light on his true feelings for the animals that obviously adored him. His friend advises him to have them slaughtered and stop living like a beggar. Zotov replies with a detailed account of a great-niece who lives on a farm that is bound to take him in as “her duty.” It is clear that the relation to this great-niece is tenuous at best and only offered to show his friend that he is not poor in familial relations. Of course, the irony is that he is alone despite his delusion of a great-niece willing to care for him, and the only creatures that care for him are the dog and horse he shuns the most–his “dependents”. I suspect they serve as a convenient replacement target for the verbal abuse he would rather have flung at his great-niece. Taking on this new mission of moving to live with her, he makes it only a mile from his home when he realizes his horse and dog are slowly following behind. Realizing he cannot go to his great-nieces with animals, he turns in a moment of impulsivity toward the slaughter-house. What happens in the final paragraph is a blur for Zotov, as the only two faithful dependents he has are put down. What will happen to Zotov now that his morning routine no longer includes someone other than himself to insult? I suspect he will not be long in following them to death, either by his own hand or the sullen realization of the loss of his true and faithful family.