This is an original fiction piece written for StoryADay September. Read more & follow here. Today’s story is based on the first part of my favorite short story, Anton Chekhov‘s “The Lady with the Little Dog“. It’s a retelling from the woman’s perspective, trying to capture Chekhov’s tone and style.
Anna Sergeevna knew not whether to wear the beret again this day, as the dust and sun of Yalta were beginning to change its color. She looked at herself in the mirror that so many had peered in before and would thereafter. It had been hers for the past five days. What all had this mirror seen? What lovers had found themselves stealing a glance at the Other in this room; not at a person, but a reflection mediated by polished glass, preventing them from seeing the truest contours of human flesh. Anna scolded herself. Now was not the time for such sentimentalities. She decided to wear the beret. Putting it on reminded her of her husband’s feeblest attempts to cover his own shiny zenith that burned so easily. He was so self-conscious about it. But why? Not for what she may think about it–that much was certain. It was for all of them–all those that could provide medals, accolades, and honor. She realized then that this was the purpose behind his fortuitous side-whiskers: compensation. She believed his lack of hair made him distinguished-looking in certain lights; at certain, ephemeral moments where he may have said the right thing or noticed a different shade of rouge she had picked up on a whim. He was a lackey. These moments were few.
After applying the perfume from the Japanese scent shop, she escaped the dank room into the dry arid “escape” of Yalta. The spitz’s little feet caused it to move rapidly to keep up with the similarly short legs of Anna. Today she would go to the garden for dinner. The walk was not too long, but long enough to feel the slight burn in the back of her legs from the stiffness she had been taught to walk in – the “walk of a lady” she had been told so many times before. To be respected was equated with “real” and “mature” love. This made sense, after all, due to the fact that a woman could fall in love and become fixated with anything: a sunset, a light post, a dress, a little white Pomeranian, perhaps. This being the case, a “lady” needed to seek one she could respect–love would surely follow. That was the hope, at least. This one light hope was the last dream of fanciful girlish charm to be abandoned when entering marriage. It was the mark between a “girl” and a “woman.” Those that had released that simple-minded idealistic notion of real “romance” were women. Those who held on to that sinking ship, believing it to float once more, were the over-emotional, dramatic, indecent, vulgar, and unrespected – the girls. Perhaps her violent hatred of these girls was merely her reaction to the last tip of her own sinking vessel still peering out of the darkened seas of her own “fanciful girlish charms.”
She took a table in a quiet corner of the patio as far away from the young mother trying to control her son as possible. She pulled her book out and begin to scan the pages without really reading intently, rather listening to the sounds of Yalta at sunset – the water, the children, the birds, the wind. Distracted by this, she apparently lost track of the spitz, as the gentleman sitting behind her was scolding it for growling at him. She glanced at the man, but quickly looked down as her face became hot with embarrassment. She assured him, with some semblance of confidence, at least, that the spitz would not bite.
The two would-be strangers exchanged some words, a joke, and then proceeded to eat their meals surrounded only by the loud-silence of the sun setting. Anna wondered if this man was thinking as she was. He was a man of much life–distinguished, it seemed; slight creases beginning to form in his forehead from years of raised-eyebrow inquisitions, elusive in person, escaping all that one would expect to know even from such a brief encounter. His eyes gave so much yet nothing away. Why did this one brief encounter prevent her from concentrating on her meal, her book, her thoughts, the sunset, the still annoying eight-year-old across the way? She knew not what caused nor sustained it. Her thoughts were just as much of a mystery to her as this stranger was. The sinking vessel’s hull suddenly seemed to break the surface once more. Anna thought how exciting this was.
Once again, her trance was broken by the voice of the stranger, now inquisitive of her, “Shall we enjoy a Yaltan walk in this boring town?”
She learned his name was Dmitri Gurov, a bank worker from Moscow. She had been to Moscow on several occasions but never for the sake of enjoyment, always for the sake of playing the role of Pomeranian to her lackey husband on his trips to wash the feet of those on the most important pedestals of his life. Anna and Dmitiri both noticed the strange color of the sunset, and the cool sea coast breeze as it mixed with the warm Yalta air to create a lively, dancing, dynamic lukewarm that enveloped those in it as an air of velvet, but Anna’s thoughts trailed off these visions of nature’s beauty into the nature of the beauty that tragically began to take place within her. As Dmitri spoke, she felt as if with every word, he were letting her in on a secret that he had told to no one before her. He began to speak of his wife, but in a brief fashion, demonstrating a certain disinterest as to her well-being and security. Anna had the impression, though, that this was not due to a lack of ability on his part to feel affection for his wife but rather a lack of motivation on the wife’s to deserve it. Anna began to hate her as well.
She would see him tomorrow. In her bed that night in the dank hotel room, the perfume on her sheets from the night before was filling her face with scents from the Orient that awakened her passions. She would see him tomorrow. Before she could fall into her slumber, though, she was seized with the years of conditioning that caused her heart to stiffen and jaw clench: respectability is true loveliness, seek that at all costs. She knew not if she could do that this time. Her heart began to race with possibility, her hands numb with excitement. She would see him tomorrow. It had to be so.
This work by Paul Burkhart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.