a cinder suddenly flew into one of the
hapless Strokotov’s eyes. Cinders were always
flying into his eyes: this was a misfortune that
accompanied every one of the family’s infrequent departures from Paris. Strokotov blinked,
pulled at his eyelid, rubbed at his eye, rubbed
toward his nose with his fist, rubbed away from
his nose with his handkerchief; nothing made
Kyate got angry and began to hiss, “Why
doesn’t this happen to anyone else? Columbus
discovered the whole of america and noth-
ing ever flew into his eye. Vasco da Gama…
hundreds like him…and did any of them? no,
never…whereas this ass…His eyes catch every
bit of rubbish that’s going!”
“leave off, Kyate,” said the old woman.
“What do you expect from him? you don’t
seem to understand what kind of man he is.
Give your nerves a rest.”
Strokotov felt hotter than ever as a result
of his eye trouble. “i’m dying, i need a drink,”
he groaned. “Why didn’t we bring any water
“Because you never think of anything,”
replied his wife, and went on to develop this
thought sullenly and angrily: “is there anything
you’re capable of thinking about? no. There
isn’t. There never is. not once have you ever
thought about anything.”
“ask him if he’s still got the money,” the
old woman instructed her daughter, preferring,
because of the extraordinary contempt that she
felt, not to address her son-in-law directly.
“it’s still there, maman,” Strokotov reassured
her. “The hundred francs are in my wallet. But all
the same, i’m dying, and there’s no water.”
The coach was getting hotter and hot-
ter. Seeing her husband’s sufferings, Kyate was
suddenly filled with pity; her pity, however, be-
cause of the peculiar workings of her psyche,
was directed not at Strokotov but at her mother.
“mama, darling, you’re sweating all over—you
mustn’t sit in a draft. Viktor, be so good as to
close the window. mama will catch cold. it
probably makes no difference to you if my
mother, who has made so many sacrifices for
you, catches pneumonia. But to me it’s not a
matter of indifference. Close the window!”
The old woman almost protested against the
closing of the window since she too was finding
it unbearably hot, but she saw how desperately
Strokotov wanted to disobey and instantly de-
cided upon an act of self-sacrifice—anything to
make things worse for her son-in-law: “Thank
you, Kyate, for taking care of your mother.”
With trembling hands, Strokotov slammed
shut the window, collapsed back into his seat
with a groan, and closed his eyes. The veins on
his neck were protruding visibly.
The individual, so far as he is not a citizen
but belongs to the family, is only an unreal
—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1807
The old woman looked at him thoughtfully
out of the corner of one eye. “Would this be too
much for him?”
She decided it wouldn’t.
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!”
The train slowed down.
The martyr opened his eyes. “i’ll slip out
and buy a bottle of Vichy,” he said, not looking
and there was something in his tone that
silenced both mother and daughter, preventing
either of them from finding an appropriate rejoinder. The train came to a halt and Strokotov, trying not to look at his ladies in case they
stopped him, leaped out on to the platform.
But since Strokotov was unlucky with everything, the trolley with the drinks and sand-wiches turned out to be at the other end of the
platform. Strokotov gestured despairingly, trying to summon the trolley, but the trolley was
busy with other passengers and he himself had
to run the length of the train.
He found his Vichy.
He rummaged through each of his pock-
ets. But he never had any change on him and