The patient

( by Mikhail Zoshchenko, 1924 )

( Photo by Valentin Loginov )

Anis’ia traveled thirty versts to get to the country hospital.
She set out at dawn and at noon she paused before the white single-storied house.
“Is the surgeon receiving?” she asked a peasant sitting on the porch.
“The surgeon?” the peasant asked with interest. “What, you sick?”
“Sick,” Anis’ia answered.
“Me, too, my dear,” the peasant said. “I ate too much grits… I’m number seven.”
Anis’ia tied her horse to the post and went into the hospital.
The medical orderly, Ivan Kuz’mich, was receiving the patients. He was small, elderly, and terribly distinguished. Everyone in the area knew him, praised him and called him, without reason, the surgeon.
Anis’ia entered the room, approached him, bowed loa, and sat down on the edge of a chair.
“Are you sick?” Ivan Kuz’mich asked.
“I’m sick,” said Anis’ia. “That is, I’m sick through and through. Every bone pains and throbs. My heart is eating itself alive.”
“What might it be from?” the medical orderly asked indifferently. “And since when?”
“Since fall, Ivan Kuz’mich. Since this last fall. In the fall I got sick. Since, you know, my husband Dimitrii Naumych arrived from the city, I’ve been sick. For example, I’m standing by the table rolling some mill cakes in flour. Dimitrii Naumych used to love these particular mill cakes. And where is he now, I think to myself, Dimitrii Naumych? He’s a soviet deputy in the city…”
“Look, my dear woman,” the medical orderly said, “don’t overdo it. What are you sick from?”
“Well, I was just telling you,” said Anis’ia, “I’m standing by the table rolling mill cakes. Suddenly Aunt Agaf’ia runs up like a ram and starts waving her hand. “Go,” she shrieks, ‘go quick, Anis’iushka. Your man just arrived from the city, and it looks like he’s coming up the street with bag and stick.” My heart stopped. My knees knocked together. I’m standing there like a fool kneading the cakes… Then I threw down the cakes and ran into the yard. And in the yard the sun is shimmering. The air is light. And on my left near the shed a brown calf is standing scaring off flies with his tail. I looked at the calf – and the tears began to flow. Here, I think, Dimitrii Naumych will be so pleased with this particular brown calf.”
“Please,” the medical orderly said morosely, “stick to the point.”
“But my dear Ivan Kuz’mich, I’m just telling you. Please don’t get mad. I’m sticking to the point… I ran out the gate. I see, you know how it is, the church on the left, a goat’s walking along, a rooster is scratching away with his foot, and on the right, I see, right on up the middle – there comes Dimitrii Naumych.
“I looked at him. My heart skipped a beat, I could feel a hiccup rising. Ah, I think, Holy Mother of God! Ah, I think, I feel a little faint! And he, he’s walking along with a short, serious step. His beard is fluttering in the air. And he’s wearing city clothes. And fancy shoes.”
“As soon as I saw the fancy shoes it was as though something had been torn out of me. I think, oy, where do I come in, uncultured as I am, what kind of a wife do I make for him, a first-rate man and a soviet deputy.”
“I stood like a fool at the post and my feet wouldn’t move. I feel the post up and down with my fingers and I stand there.”
“And he himself, Dimitrii Naumych, the soviet deputy, comes up to me slowly and says hello.”
“He says, ‘Hello, Anis’ia Vasil’evna. How many years has it been,’ he says, ‘how many winters, that we have not seen each other?…’
“I should have, fool that I am, taken the bag from Dimitrii Naumych, but I just look at his fancy shoes and don’t move.”
“I think, oy, it was a peasant who left me. Now he’s wearing fancy shoes. He’s been having talks with city folks, maybe even with Comsomol girls.”
“And Dimitrii Naumych answers in a low voice: ‘Och,’ he says, ‘look what you’re like! Dark,’ he says, ‘ignorant, Anis’ia Vasil’evna. What,’ he says, ‘am I going to talk about with you? I,’ he says, ‘am an educated man and a soviet deputy. I,’ he says, ‘know maybe four rules of arithmetic. I know fractions,’ he says. ‘But you,’ he says, ‘look what you’re like! Probably,’ he says, ‘you can’t even sign your name on paper? Another man might very well throw you over, for your darkness and ignorance.’
“And I’m standing at the post and getting words all mixed up: look here, Dimitrii Naumych, throw me over if you like, certainly, just as you like.”
“But he takes me by the hand and answers: “I was only joking, Anis’ia Vasil’evna. Stop thinking like that. I,’ he says, ‘am like this. Forget it…’
“Again my heart skipped a beat, I could feel a hiccup rising.”
” ‘Dimitrii Naumych,’ I say, ‘be at rest. I, too, certainly, can learn fractions and the four rules. Also to sign my name on paper. I,’ I say, ‘will not shame you, an educated man…’ ”
The medical orderly, Ivan Kuz’mich stood up from his chair and walked about the room.
“Well, well,” he said, “that’s enough, you’re a long way off… What are you sick from?”
“What am I sick from? Why nothing, now, Ivan Kuz’mich. It seems to have gotten better now. I can’t complain about my health. And Dimitrii Naumych himself said: ‘I was just joking,’ he said. That means he said all that just as a joke.”
“Why, yes, he was joking,’ said the medical orderly. “Of course he was joking… Can I give you some pills?”
“I don’t need any,” said Anis’ia. “Thank you, Ivan Kuz’mich for your advice. I feel very much better now. Many, many thanks. Good-bye.”
And Anis’ia, after leaving a bag of grain on the table, went to the door. Then she turned.
“Fractions, Ivan Kuz’mich… Where can I find out about these fractions? Should I go to the schoolteacher, or what?”
“To the schoolteacher,” the medical orderly said, sighing. “Of course, to the schoolteacher. It isn’t a medical matter.”
Anis’ia bowed low and went out into the street.

( Photo by Boris Protasov )

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