Nothing had cut him so deeply in years: Sokolov, Old World conqueror, who had held the gaze of every woman in his novels class, who had wooed dozens just by a line from Herzen or a pose struck thoughtfully looking out a window, who had slept with half the humanities faculty at Lehman, knew all at once age, irrelevance, invisibility. And standing there with a five-dollar bill in his hand, for the first time since the terrifying clap of mortality when the doctor pronounced the diagnosis, felt the brush of the dark angel’s wings on his neck.
And since, he had returned daily to verify the sensation, rage, and concede and quietly wonder at the many ways we pass into insubstantiality. An old fool in love.
Sokolov is an aging academic (aha, another taboo that made it through three rounds of selection) walking Lermontov, his intestinally-blocked wolfhound, in the hopes of working something loose; otherwise Lermontov, who is a ripe old 13, will find himself the recipient of a humanely-delivered lethal injection. The dog used to belong to Kelly, his grad-student girlfriend. He’d met Kelly by invoking Chekhov’s “The Lady and the Dog” in his flirtations; after they’d been together three years, on a trip to Key West, he has “the brittle realization they were sullen, disconsolate, exhausted.”
But at that moment Fate delivered its own blow, and Sokolov was diagnosed with cancer. After treatment and four clean biopsies, Kelly headed for warmer climes and a better professional opportunity, leaving only Lermontov behind.
Of late, Sokolov has become enrapt by another cute young thing, Amity, a waitress in a café who pays him no attention whatsoever. This is a new experience, and he’s trying to adjust to it.
This rather short story is available online. In his BASS Contributor Notes, Havazelet says he was trying to emulate Chekhov’s “The Lady And The Dog” by capturing “a moment where nothing at all seems to happen and yet everything has changed.” I’m pretty sure he was successful, in that on reading the passage above, I immediately identified with similar moments I’ve experienced. I re-read the Chekhov story, and there are similarities and frequent references, but this story stands alone just fine, I think.
It’s a nice read – the prose is a bit more lush than usual – and I appreciate the Chekhov reference. In an interview with TriQuarterly, the author admits to having an experience very similar to the turning point, involving a sweet young waitress who took little notice of him; and, like Sokolov, he returned to the café to get used to the idea that he was no longer an object of admiration to young ladies. I like the elements he chose to add to make this moment a story, including the Chekhov reference, the dog’s intestinal blockage (which is part of the “everything” that changes; it’s a terrific use of symbolism), the illness, the departed lover.
A quiet, thoughtful story, low on action; I’m glad to see it included here.