An Evil Boy
Isaac Levitan, Golden Autumn, 1895
by Anton Chekhov, translated by Zooey Park
Ivan Ivanitch Lapkin, a pleasant-looking young man, and Anna Semyonovna Zamblitskaya, a young woman with a small, upturned nose, went down the steep bank and sat on a little bench. The little bench stood near the water, between thick shrubs of young willows. A wonderful place! When you sit here, you’re hidden from the world – only fish and plankton spiders, running like lightning on the water, see you. The two young people were armed with fishing rods, nets, cans of worms and other fishing gear. When they sat down, they immediately began to fish.
“I’m glad we’re finally alone,” began Lapkin, looking around. “I’ve a lot to tell you, Anna Semyonovna… a lot of things… When I saw you for the first time – you have a bite – I realised then why I live, I realised where my idol is, to whom I should devote my honest, working life – it must be a big bite… When I saw you, I fell in love for the first time, I fell in love passionately! Wait for the yank… let him get hooked better… Tell me, my dear, I beg you, whether I can count on – not on your returning my love, no! I’m not worth it, I don’t dare even think about it… can I count on… Drag the line!
Anna Semyonovna raised the rod, pulled and screamed. A silver-green fish flashed in the air.
“My God, a perch! Ah, ah… Hurry up! It’s escaping!”
The perch broke off the hook, flopped onto the grass towards its native element, and…plunged into the water!
Chasing the fish, Lapkin, instead of grabbing it, somehow accidentally grabbed Anna Semyonovna’s hand, and accidentally pressed it to his lips. She pulled away, but it was too late: her lips accidentally merged into his for a kiss. It all happened somehow by accident. The kiss was followed by another kiss, then vows, assurances – happy moments! However, there’s nothing absolutely happy in this earthly life. Happiness usually carries poison within itself or is poisoned by something from the outside. And so it was this time. While the young people were kissing, they suddenly heard laughter. They looked at the river and were stunned: a naked boy was standing in the water up to his waist. It was Kolya, Anna Semyonovna’s brother, a junior high school student. He stood in the water, looked at the young people, and smiled maliciously.
“Ah-ah-ah… are you kissing?” said he. “Good! I’ll tell mama.”
“I trust that you, as an honest man…” muttered Lapkin, blushing. “It’s mean to spy, and to tell is low, vile and disgusting… I believe you’re an honest and noble person…”
“Give me a rouble and I won’t tell on you!” said the honourable young man. “If not, I’ll tell.”
Lapkin took a rouble from his pocket and handed it to Kolya. Kolya squeezed the rouble in his wet fist, whistled, and swam away. And the young people did not kiss again this time.
The next day, Lapkin brought Kolya some paints and a ball from town and his sister gave him all her ornamental pill-boxes. Then Lapkin had to give him cufflinks with dog faces. The evil boy obviously liked all of this very much, and in order to get even more, he began to spy on them. Where Lapkin and Anna Semyonovna went, he went, too. He never left them alone for a minute.
“The scoundrel!” Lapkin grit his teeth. “He’s small, but what a big scoundrel he is already! What’s he going to be like later?!”
All throughout June, Kolya showed no mercy to the poor lovers. He threatened to tell, continued to spy and demanded gifts; and all this wasn’t enough for him, and in the end he began to talk about a pocket watch. And what happened? They had to promise him the watch.
One day at dinner, when waffles were being served, he suddenly burst out laughing, winked and asked Lapkin:
Lapkin blushed terribly and chewed his napkin instead of his waffle. Anna Semyonovna jumped up from the table and ran into the other room.
And the young people were in this position until the end of August, until the very day when, finally, Lapkin proposed to Anna Semyonovna. Oh, what a happy day that was! Having talked with the bride’s parents and getting their consent, Lapkin first of all ran into the garden and began to look for Kolya. When he found him, he almost wept with delight and grabbed the evil boy by the ear. Anna Semyonovna, who had also been looking for Kolya, ran up and grabbed his other ear. And, really, you had to see the pleasure written on the lovers’ faces when Kolya cried and begged them:
“Pretties, nice ones, dears, I won’t do it again! Aie, aie, I’m sorry!”
And afterwards the two young people both confessed that in all the time they were in love with each other, they had never experienced such happiness, such sheer bliss, as in those moments when they were pulling the evil boy by the ears.
About the Translator
Zooey Park is a Korean-American filmmaker and has shown his work in several festivals. He holds both a law degree and a Master’s in film/video production from Syracuse University.