A.P. Chekhov - Small Fry
"HONORED Sir, Father and Benefactor!" a petty clerk called
Nevyrazimov was writing a rough copy of an Easter congratulatory
letter. "I trust that you may spend this Holy Day even as many
more to come, in good health and prosperity. And to your family
also I . . ."
The lamp, in which the kerosene was getting low, was smoking and
smelling. A stray cockroach was running about the table in alarm
near Nevyrazimov's writing hand. Two rooms away from the office
Paramon the porter was for the third time cleaning his best
boots, and with such energy that the sound of the blacking-brush
and of his expectorations was audible in all the rooms.
"What else can I write to him, the rascal?" Nevyrazimov
wondered, raising his eyes to the smutty ceiling.
On the ceiling he saw a dark circle -- the shadow of the
lamp-shade. Below it was the dusty cornice, and lower still the
wall, which had once been painted a bluish muddy color. And the
office seemed to him such a place of desolation that he felt
sorry, not only for himself, but even for the cockroach.
"When I am off duty I shall go away, but he'll be on duty here
all his cockroach-life," he thought, stretching. "I am bored!
Shall I clean my boots?"
And stretching once more, Nevyrazimov slouched lazily to the
porter's room. Paramon had finished cleaning his boots. Crossing
himself with one hand and holding the brush in the other, he was
standing at the open window-pane, listening.
"They're ringing," he whispered to Nevyrazimov, looking at him
with eyes intent and wide open. "Already!"
Nevyrazimov put his ear to the open pane and listened. The
Easter chimes floated into the room with a whiff of fresh spring
air. The booming of the bells mingled with the rumble of
carriages, and above the chaos of sounds rose the brisk tenor
tones of the nearest church and a loud shrill laugh.
"What a lot of people!" sighed Nevyrazimov, looking down into
the street, where shadows of men flitted one after another by
the illumination lamps. "They're all hurrying to the midnight
service. . . . Our fellows have had a drink by now, you may be
sure, and are strolling about the town. What a lot of laughter,
what a lot of talk! I'm the only unlucky one, to have to sit
here on such a day: And I have to do it every year!"
"Well, nobody forces you to take the job. It's not your turn to
be on duty today, but Zastupov hired you to take his place. When
other folks are enjoying themselves you hire yourself out. It's
"Devil a bit of it! Not much to be greedy over -- two roubles is
all he gives me; a necktie as an extra. . . . It's poverty, not
greediness. And it would be jolly, now, you know, to be going
with a party to the service, and then to break the fast. . . .
To drink and to have a bit of supper and tumble off to sleep. .
. . One sits down to the table, there's an Easter cake and the
samovar hissing, and some charming little thing beside you. . .
. You drink a glass and chuck her under the chin, and it's
first-rate. . . . You feel you're somebody. . . . Ech h-h! . . .
I've made a mess of things! Look at that hussy driving by in her
carriage, while I have to sit here and brood."
"We each have our lot in life, Ivan Danilitch. Please God,
you'll be promoted and drive about in your carriage one day."
"I? No, brother, not likely. I shan't get beyond a 'titular,'
not if I try till I burst. I'm not an educated man."
"Our General has no education either, but . . ."
"Well, but the General stole a hundred thousand before he got
his position. And he's got very different manners and deportment
from me, brother. With my manners and deportment one can't get
far! And such a scoundrelly surname, Nevyrazimov! It's a
hopeless position, in fact. One may go on as one is, or one may
hang oneself . . ."
He moved away from the window and walked wearily about the
rooms. The din of the bells grew louder and louder. . . . There
was no need to stand by the window to hear it. And the better he
could hear the bells and the louder the roar of the carriages,
the darker seemed the muddy walls and the smutty cornice and the
more the lamp smoked.
"Shall I hook it and leave the office?" thought Nevyrazimov.
But such a flight promised nothing worth having. . . . After
coming out of the office and wandering about the town,
Nevyrazimov would have gone home to his lodging, and in his
lodging it was even grayer and more depressing than in the
office. . . . Even supposing he were to spend that day
pleasantly and with comfort, what had he beyond? Nothing but the
same gray walls, the same stop-gap duty and complimentary
letters. . . .
Nevyrazimov stood still in the middle of the office and sank
into thought. The yearning for a new, better life gnawed at his
heart with an intolerable ache. He had a passionate longing to
find himself suddenly in the street, to mingle with the living
crowd, to take part in the solemn festivity for the sake of
which all those bells were clashing and those carriages were
rumbling. He longed for what he had known in childhood -- the
family circle, the festive faces of his own people, the white
cloth, light, warmth . . . ! He thought of the carriage in which
the lady had just driven by, the overcoat in which the head
clerk was so smart, the gold chain that adorned the secretary's
chest. . . . He thought of a warm bed, of the Stanislav order,
of new boots, of a uniform without holes in the elbows. . . . He
thought of all those things because he had none of them.
"Shall I steal?" he thought. "Even if stealing is an easy
matter, hiding is what's difficult. Men run away to America,
they say, with what they've stolen, but the devil knows where
that blessed America is. One must have education even to steal,
The bells died down. He heard only a distant noise of carriages
and Paramon's cough, while his depression and anger grew more
and more intense and unbearable. The clock in the office struck
"Shall I write a secret report? Proshkin did, and he rose
Nevyrazimov sat down at his table and pondered. The lamp in
which the kerosene had quite run dry was smoking violently and
threatening to go out. The stray cockroach was still running
about the table and had found no resting-place.
"One can always send in a secret report, but how is one to make
it up? I should want to make all sorts of innuendoes and
insinuations, like Proshkin, and I can't do it. If I made up
anything I should be the first to get into trouble for it. I'm
an ass, damn my soul!"
And Nevyrazimov, racking his brain for a means of escape from
his hopeless position, stared at the rough copy he had written.
The letter was written to a man whom he feared and hated with
his whole soul, and from whom he had for the last ten years been
trying to wring a post worth eighteen roubles a month, instead
of the one he had at sixteen roubles.
"Ah, I'll teach you to run here, you devil!" He viciously
slapped the palm of his hand on the cockroach, who had the
misfortune to catch his eye. "Nasty thing!"
The cockroach fell on its back and wriggled its legs in despair.
Nevyrazimov took it by one leg and threw it into the lamp. The
lamp flared up and spluttered.
And Nevyrazimov felt better.
petty clerk: clerks like Nevyrazimov were at the bottom of the
civil service ladder, and those without education were rarely
on such a day: having to work the night before Easter indicates
the low rank he has
titular: Titular Councillor, grade 9 on the civil service scale
secret report: be an informer