Remedy for a Bender by Anton Chekhov translated by Misha Feigin

Remedy for a Bender

A famous actor and comedian, Mr. Feniksov-Dikobrazov II, had arrived in town D riding the train in a private, first-class compartment. Everyone meeting him at the train station knew that the first-class ticket was bought at the last station before town D only to show off his glamour, and before that, this celebrity traveled in a third class carriage; everyone saw, that in spite of cold, autumn weather, the celebrity wore a summer cape and a worn out seal fur hat, but nevertheless, when the sleepy mug of Dikobrazov II emerged from the carriage, everyone felt an urge to meet him and was somewhat thrilled. Impresario Pochechuev kissed him three times according to Russian tradition and took him to his quarters.

The celebrity had to start performing in two days after his arrival, but fate decided otherwise: a day before the show, the pale, disheveled impresario stormed into a ticket office and informed everyone that Dikobrazov II, could not perform.

“He cannot!” explained Pochechuev grabbing his hair, “How do you like that? For one month, the whole month, it was printed in large letters. “Dikobrazov will be here,” We boasted and put on the airs, took subscription money, and suddenly… Such a foul thing! Eh? It is not enough to hang one for that!”

“But what is it? What happened?”

“The bastard went on a bender!”

“What’s the big deal? He will sleep it off.”

“He would rather kick the bucket then sleep it off! I know him since the time I lived in Moscow: if he starts on vodka, he will go on for two months without a break. A bender! This is a bender! This is my bad luck. What is his grief for? Why was I born into such misery? What for? Why have I been damned by heaven my entire life?” (By profession and his nature, Pochechuev was a dramatic actor; tragic phrases accompanied by his fists drumming on his breast suited him well.) “I was despicable, loathsome, and wretched for letting fate torture me! Isn’t it much more honorable to stop playing the role of a scape goat and put a bullet into my head? What am I waiting for? Oh God, what am I waiting for?”

Pochechuev looked out a window burying his face in his hands. Besides the cashier, many actors and theater-goers were mingling in the ticket office, so advice, consolations and assurances were shared generously. However, all these offerings were rather philosophical or prophetic; nobody went beyond all is vanity, don’t pay attention to it, or everything might work out somehow. Only the cashier, a chubby man with signs of edema, had a serious response:

“Prokol Lvovich,” he said, “You have to try to treat him.”

“There is no way in hell to treat a bender!”

“Do not say so. Our barber has superior capacity to treat a bender. Everyone in our town uses his services.”

Pochechuev was happy to grab this straw, and in just five minutes, theatrical barber Fedor Grebeshkov stood in front of him. Imagine a tall, boney man with sunken eyes, a long, thin beard and brown hands, who bore a remarkable resemblance to a skeleton outfitted with screws and springs; then imagine that this skeleton is forced to move; dress this figure in an incredibly worn out black suit – now you have the portrait of Grebeshkov.

“Hey. Fedor!” Pochechuev greeted him, “I heard, my dear friend, that you, well… can treat a bender. Do me a favor, as a friend – treat Dikobrazov. He went on a bender, you know!”

“God help him,” Grebeshkov said with a sad, deep voice. “I treat regular actors, merchants and office workers, but this one is a celebrity in the whole of Russia!”

“So what?”

“In order to rid him from a bender, it is necessary to shake all his organs and joints. If I do that and he will get better, he will show his ambition and will tell me: How dare you, dog, to touch my face? I know these celebrities!”

“No, no… Don’t try to squeeze out of it! Walk the talk! Put on your hat, let’s go!”

When 15 minutes later Grebeshkov was walking into Dikobrazpv’s room, the celebrity was in his bed looking maliciously at a lamp hanging from the ceiling. The lamp hung peacefully, but Dikobrzov was staring at it and muttering: “Stop spinning! I’ll whup you! You are going to get it! I broke a decanter and I will break you, you’ll see! Ah-ah-ah…the ceiling is spinning…I understand, it is a plot! But the lamp, the lamp! The wicked thing is smaller than the others, but it is spinning the most! Just wait…”

The comedian got out of his bed dragging the sheet and throwing glasses off a night table. He was wobbling towards the lamp, when halfway through, he stumbled against something tall and boney…

“What is it?” he roared scanning the room with wavering gaze. ‘Who are you? Where from? Eh?”

“I’ll show you who I am! Get back to your bed!”

Grebeshkov did not wait for the comedian to reach his bed, but hit him with his fist on the back of his head with such force, that he fell into his bed, head-over-heels. Possibly, the comedian was never beaten before, so despite being very drunk, he looked at Grebeshkov with surprise, even with curiosity.

“You… Did you hit me? Wait, did you hit me?”

“I hit you. Do you want more?”

The barber hit Dikobrazov again, this time, in the teeth. I don’t know what really made an impact – strong punches or new experience, but the comedian’s eyes stopped wondering and showed a spark of reason. He jumped on his feet staring at the pale face and a dirty coat of Grebeshkov.

“You… Why are you beating me?” he muttered. “You… How do you dare!?”

“Shut up!”

And again, a punch in his face. The comedian lost his head and tried to defend himself, but Grebeshkov held him with one hand, while his other hand began pummeling the comedian’s mug.

“Not that hard, not so hard!” said a voice from another room, “Not so hard, Fedenka!”

It’s alright, Prokl Lvovich! You will thank me for that!”

“Just give him a break anyway!” Pochechuev cried, glancing inside the comedian’s room. “It’s nothing for you, but I have goose bumps. Just think of it – in the middle of the day, a law abiding, intelligent, and famous man is being beaten in his own room… Oh!”

“I, Prokl Lvovich, am punching not him, but devil who sits inside him. Please leave and don’t worry. Stay in bed, devil!” Fedor screamed at the comedian, “Don’t move! Whaaat ?”

Dikobrazov was horrified. He felt that everything that was spinning before and had been broken by him, now flew at his head at the same time.

“Help, help!” he screamed, “save me, help!”

“Go on, scream, devil! This is just a beginning, the worst is yet to come! Now listen – if you say one more word or move, I will kill you! I will kill you without mercy! There is no one here to protect you, brother! No one! No one will show up even if you shoot big guns. But if you resign yourself and stay silent, I will give some nice vodka. Look. Here it is. This vodka!”

Grebeshkov pulled a small bottle of vodka out of his pocket and let it shine in front of comedian’s eyes. When the drunk saw the subject of his passion, he forgot that he was beaten and even neighed from pleasure. Grebeshkov got out of his vest’s pocket a piece of dirty soap and stuck it into the bottle. When the vodka frothed and became muddy, he began pouring all kinds of garbage into it. Saltpeter, ammonia, alum, sodium sulphate, phosphorus, resin and other “spices” one can buy in shops selling paints and other useful chemicals. The comedian stared at Grebeshkov and passionately watched the bottle’s trajectory. In conclusion, the barber burned a piece of a rag, put the ashes into the vodka, shook the bottle and came close to the bed.

“Drink!” he said filling a half of a tea glass. “At once!”

The comedian drank it, quacked with delight, but immediately popped his eyes. His face turned pale, sweat appeared on his forehead.

“Drink more! “offered Grebeshkov.

“No… I don’t want it! Wwwait…”

“Drink, damn you!” Drink! I will kill you!”

Dikobrazov drank the mixture and dropped onto his bed moaning. One minute later, he raised himself, and Fedor could see that his spices had worked.

“Drink more! Let all your guts turn over, that is good! Drink!”

The suffering was upon the comedian. All his insides were literally turning over. He jumped on his feet, tossed in his bed, and watched with horror the movements of his ruthless, restless enemy who did not ease up his assault for a minute and tirelessly beat him up when he tried to refuse the spices. Beating was followed by spices, spices were followed by beating. Never at any other time, had he body of Feniksov Dikobrazov II, suffered such insult and humiliation. Never before was the celebrity becoming so weak and helpless. At first, the comedian screamed and cussed, then he began pleading, and at the end, when he had figured out that protests led to more beating, he began to cry.

Pochechuev, who stood behind the closed door eavesdropping, ran into the comedian’s room.

“Go to hell!” he said waving his hands. “I don’t care about subscription money, he will be better off drinking vodka, stop torturing him, please! He will kick the bucket. You go to hell! Just look – he’s almost dead! If I would have known it beforehand – I would never have asked you for anything…”

“It’s nothing. You will thank me for this. Hey you!” he turned back to the comedian, “What are you fussing about? You’ll get it again!”

He messed around with the comedian until the evening. He became tired and he wore out the comedian completely. It ended with the comedian became so terribly weak that he could not moan anymore. He was petrified. After that, he fell into something resembling sleep.

To Pochechuev’s great supervise, the comedian woke the next day. Obviously, he was not dead. After waking up, he blankly looked around, scanned the room with a wondering gaze and began remembering.

“Why am I hurting everywhere?” he wondered, “It seems, like I was under thrown under the train; should I drink vodka? Hey, you over there! Give me vodka!”

At that time, Pochechuev and Grebeshkov stood behind the door.

“He asking for vodka!” Pochechuev was horrified, “Then, he is not cured!”

“What are you saying, dear Prokl Lvovich!” Grebeshkov was puzzled. “Do you think it is possible to cure him in one day? Maybe a week will be enough with God’s help. You can cure a weakling in five days, but this one, but this one has a frame of a merchant. You cannot get through to him quickly.

“Why didn’t you tell me that beforehand, you anathema?” Pochechuev moaned. “Why was I born into such misery? Would it be more reasonable to put a bullet into my forehead and to finish it all at once? “And etcetera…

But instead of Pochechuev’s morbid assessment of his fate, Dikobrazov-Feniksov II, was on stage acting in just one week. And there was no need to return subscription money. Grebeshkov was putting make-up on the comedian’s face with such respect, that it was hard to imagine he was the celebrity’s tormentor.

“This man is die-hard!” surprised Pochechuev thought, “I almost died watching him suffering, but he seems to be alright; he even thanks this devil, Fedka, and he wants to take him and me to Moscow. It’s nothing but a miracle!”