Today’s story is 1607 words long and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/086.html
Today’s story does contain a peculiar man. Steve does a great job below diagnosing Kiryakov with Asperger’s Syndrome, but like the midwife in the story, I would prefer to keep my distance from him regardless of his condition and not worry about any money lost. (Forfeiting money is something that I’m sure Kiryakov would not allow himself, if he felt owed for services rendered.) The man’s obsession with money is so extreme that he has isolated family and friends.”His relations have parted from him, the servants will not stay more than a month; they have no friends; his wife and children are always on tenterhooks from terror over every step they take.” I found it funny that from the midwife, Marya, finds it strange that a “good-looking” guy can can act so queer. As readers we witnessed Kiryakov’s stifling pettiness with Marya and his wife, but nothing strikes harder than the one sentence glance we get with the father and his young son in the dining room with a cup of tea: “You have just swallowed a mouthful but have not probably reflected that that mouthful costs money and money is obtained by work. You must eat and reflect. . . .” I felt suffocated by this scene, wanting to burst out the house and get some fresh air. No three rouble fee is worth being around a pathological miser.
As the title implies, we have the story of Kiryakov, a peculiar man, who is described by his wife as “honest, fair, prudent, sensibly economical, but all that to such an exceptional degree that simple mortals feel suffocated by it.” The story opens with his seeking a mid-wife to help deliver his wife’s baby. The peculiar thing about the conversation is that Kiryakov demands to know the price she intends to charge before agreeing to accept the services of the mid-wife. We are not given a sense of urgency about the impending delivery but it is nevertheless odd that a husband would haggle for the price of delivering his baby. He even leaves when the mid-wife, offended by his offer of 2 roubles, refuses to accept anything less than 3 roubles. Of course the option for a free delivery is made out of ethical duty but Kiryakov demands that payment be negotiated. He returns only after he cannot find another mid-wife and she eventually accompanies him to his house. She quickly makes friends with his wife, who by all accounts seems normal, although we are never told the outcome of the delivery. She leaves the next morning after witnessing a rather cold interaction between Kiryakov and his son. She leaves without being paid and after the realization of this fact, pauses only momentarily to entertain the idea of returning only to dismiss it with a hand wave. We are given hints of the deeper elements of Kiryakov’s character throughout the story. He carries an air of superiority such that “even in his step his respectability and positiveness is apparent.” Everything about him makes those around him feel inferior. His rank in the Russian Civil Service (Collegiate Assessor, Level VIII) is below that of other characters we have met yet his mannerisms seem to suggest imminent promotability. He has a bit of social awkwardness which gave me pause to consider a possible medical diagnosis for his peculiarity. I suspect he may be a highly functioning Asperger’s individual which would explain his obsession with finances and peculiar social skills. Overall, the story’s theme matched that of the title and main character and left me wanting for more substance. The entire reason for his introduction was to help facilitate the delivery of his new baby to whom we are never introduced. I was also curious what the two women in the story (the mid-wife and the wife of Kiryakov) must have gossiped about to become such quick friends. Regardless, I found myself having a deep respect for the mid-wife and her abilities, patience, and commitment to the ethical practice of medicine. Fortunately, she was able to see past the peculiar nature of the husband to do what was right for the mother and child–even if she didn’t get paid.