He and Anna Sergeevna loved each other like very close, dear people, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had destined them for each other, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as if they were two birds of passage, a male and a female, who had been caught and forced to live in separate cages. They had forgiven each other the things they were ashamed of in the past, they forgave everything in the present, and they felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.
Formerly, in sad moments, he had calmed himself with all sorts of arguments, whatever had come into his head, but now he did not care about any arguments, he felt deep compassion, he wanted to be sincere, tender…
"Stop, my good one," he said, "you’ve had your cry—and enough…Let’s talk now, we’ll think up something."
Then they had a long discussion, talked about how to rid themselves of the need for hiding, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long periods. How could they free themselves from these unbearable bonds?
"How? How?" he asked, clutching his head. "How?"
And it seemed that, just a little more—and the solution would be found, and then a new, beautiful life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated and difficult part was just beginning.
for pounding everything conventional into the ground. The conversation that follows, taken from Hemingway’s short story “Soldier’s Home,” is so familiar to me:
”Have you decided what you are going to do yet, Harold?” his mother said, taking off her glasses.
”No,” said Krebs.
”Don’t you think it’s about time?” His mother did not say this in a mean way. She seemed worried.
”I hadn’t thought about it,” Krebs said.
”God has some work for every one to do,” his mother said. ”There can be no idle hands in His Kingdom.”
”I’m not in His Kingdom,” Krebs said.
”We are all of us in His Kingdom.”
Krebs felt embarrassed and resentful as always.
”I’ve worried about you so much, Harold,” his mother went on. ”I know the temptations you must have been exposed to. I know how weak men are. I know what your own dear grandfather, my own father, told us about the Civil War and I have prayed for you. I pray for you all day long, Harold.”
Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.
”Your father is worried, too,” his mother went on. ”He thinks you have lost your ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim in life. Charley Simmons, who is just your age, has a good job and is going to be married. The boys are all settling down; they’re all determined to get somewhere; you can see that boys like Charley Simmons are on their way to being really a credit to the community.”
Krebs said nothing.
”Don’t look that way, Harold,” his mother said. ”You know we love you and I want to tell you for your own good how matters stand. Your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased. We want you to enjoy yourself But you are going to have to settle down to work, Harold. Your father doesn’t care what you start in at. All work is honorable as he says. But you’ve got to make a start at something. He asked me to speak to you this morning and then you can stop in and see him at his office.”
I had imagined him waving to me from a ferry in Brooklyn then quietly disappearing behind a coat of fog. Now I see him differently—a Santa Claus bearing candy canes to a ward full of amputated young boy soldiers.
Whitman, after finding his brother’s name on the wounded list in the Herald, left Brooklyn to search for his brother in Washington. After checking multiple hospitals, he found him recovering from a minor wound in his cheek. His brother went safely home but Whitman remained behind: “a great fretting buzz had started up in his head, inspired by the pile of [amputated] limbs and the smell of blood.”
The story focuses on the relationship between Walt and a boy soldier named Hank Smith who refuses to have his leg amputated until it is too late. The night before Hank’s death, Whitman grants him his wish of a final flight. They flee the hospital, but do not get far; they rest beneath a bridge upon a heap of garbage:
"I would like to go home." He put his head against Walt’s shoulder. "Take me back to Hollow Vale. I want to see my sister." He slowly fell asleep, still mumbling under his breath. They sat there for a little while. Some people passed them but did not disturb them. If this heap were a horse, thought Walt, we could ride to California. "Never mind General Stuart," he said aloud, taking Hank’s wet hand in his own. "In California there is no sickness. Neither is there death. On their fifth birthday, every child is made a gift of a pony." He looked at Hank’s drawn face glowing eerily in the moonlight and said, "In California, if you plant a dead boy under an oak tree, in just one day’s time a living hand will emerge from the soil. If you grasp that hand and pull with the heart of a true friend, a living body will come out of the earth. Thus in California death never separates true friends." He looked for a while longer into Hank’s face. His eyes were darting wildly under the lids. Walt said, "Well, if we are to get there soon, we had best be going now." But when he picked him up he took him back to the hospital.
Whitman had written hundreds of letters to families who had lost their sons to war. Included in this story is Whitman’s real letter written to Hank Smith’s family, found in Whitman’s desk after his death, unsent:
I thought it would be soothing to you to have a few lines about the last days of your son, Henry Smith—I write in haste, but I have no doubt anything about Hank will be welcome.
From the time he came—there was hardly a day but I was with him a portion of the time—if not in the day then at night—(I am merely a friend visiting the wounded and sick soldiers). From almost the first I felt somehow that Hank was in danger, or at least was much worse than they supposed in the hospital. As he made no complaint they thought him nothing so bad. I told the doctor of the ward over and over again he was a very sick boy, but he took it lightly and said he would certainly recover; he said, “I know more about these fever cases than you do—he looks very sick to you, but I shall bring him out all right—” Probably the doctor did his best—at any rate about a week before Hank died he got really alarmed, and after that he and all the other doctors tried to help him but it was too late. Very possibly it would not have made any difference.
I used to sit by the side of his bed generally silent, he was opprest for breath and with the heat, and I would fan him—occasionally he would want a drink—some days he dozed a great deal—sometimes when I would come in he woke up and I would lean down and kiss him, he would reach out his hand and pat my hair and beard as I sat on the bed and leaned over him—it was painful to see the working in his throat to breathe.
Some nights I sat by his cot far into the night, the lights would be put out and I sat there silently hour after hour—he seemed to like to have me sit there—I shall never forget those nights in the dark hospital, it was a curious and solemn scene, the sick and the wounded lying around and this dear young man close by me, lying on what proved to be his death-bed. I did not know his past life; but what I saw and know of he behaved like a noble boy—Farewell, deary boy, it was my opportunity to be with you in your last days. I had no chance to do much for you; nothing could be done—only you did not lie there among strangers without having one near who loved you dearly, and to whom you gave your dying kiss.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I have thus written rapidly whatever came up about Hank, and must now close. Though we are strangers and shall probably never see each other, I send you and all Hank’s brothers and sisters my love. I live when at home in Brooklyn, New York, in Portland Avenue, fourth floor, north of Myrtle.
*I think it is noteworthy that Chris Adrian, the writer of this story, is a doctor. Chekhov was a doctor, too.
“And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a moment to catch his breath. The past, he thought, is connected with the present in an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of the other. And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain: he touched one end, and the other moved.”—Chekhov’s The Student