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ON THE SEA (A SAILOR'S STORY)/ Anton Chekhov (translated by Peter Sekirin) ICOULD SEE ONLY THE DIM lights of the harbor we had just left, and the black sky above us, darker than pitch. A cold wind was blowing in the dark sky above; it was about to rain. We felt suffocated, despite the wind and the cold. By "we" I mean we sailors who stood in the hold. I could hear some noisy laughter; somebody was cracking jokes, and somebody else was crowing like a rooster to entertain the others. I was trembling all over, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet; it was as if I had a hole in the back of my head, from which cold sweat was pouring down my spine. I was trembling from the cold, and from other things I don't want to tell you about here. I think man a vile creature, and a sailor worse than any other, worse than an animal ; but sometimes there is a faithfulness that tells me I may be mistaken. Maybe I don't understand life, but it seems to me sometimes that a sailor has more reason to hate love than any other man. A man who is prepared to fall from the mast into the sea, to be covered forever by the waves; a man who could be drowned at any moment, going headfirst into the abyss: such a man need not fear or regret anything. We drink lots of vodka, and we are dissipated because we don't know whether we need virtue in the open sea. But I should continue my story. We were making bets. There were twenty-two of us, idle hands after hours. Only two men out of the whole crowd could see the spectacle. The thingis, our shiphas a special cabin fornewlyweds, and thatnight it had occupants, but the walls of the cabin had only two holes we could use. I made the first hole myself using a little saw, first making a small hole plugged with a cork, and my friend made the second hole with a knife. The two of us worked for more than a week. "One hole is for you," they shouted to me. "What about the other one?" "The other one's for your father." My father, an old sailor with a big crooked nose and a face like a wrinkled apple, came to me and slapped me on the shoulder. "My boy, tonight will be a happy one. You hear me, boy? There is some enjoyment for you and me both tonight, and that's what's important ." He looked thoughtful. "What time is it?" It was about eleven. 62 ยท The Missouri Review I went out of the cabin onto the deck, smoked my pipe, and looked at the sea. It was dark, but seemed to reflect my own soul's workings. I seemed to see some images, and I felt something was lacking in my young life. At midnight, I passed the passengers' lounge and looked through the door. The newlyweds were there. A young pastor with beautiful blond hair was sitting at the table, a New Testament in his hand. He was explaining something to a tall, thin Englishwoman. The new bride, a slender and very beautiful woman, was sitting next to her husband and did not move the gaze of her blue eyes from his blond head. A large, fat, old Englishman with a foul fat face and red hair, a banker, was pacing the room from one corner to the other. He was the husband of the tall woman whom the newlywed pastor was addressing. "Pastors have a habit of running off at the mouth. I suppose he won't be finished until morning," I thought. At one in the morning, my father came to me and said, "It's time. They just left the passengers' lounge." I sprinted down the long, steep steps and ran up to the wall I knew so well. Between this wall and the cabin's wall was a narrow gap filled with dirt, water, and rats. Soon, I heard my old father's heavy tread...


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