Where did the what sailor go?


Brücke-Osteuropa: Badenweiler, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, 2009 (CC)

From The Paris Review:

So many accounts of Chekhov’s death, many of them exaggerated, some outright bogus. The only indisputable thing is that he died at forty-four. That’s etched in stone in Moscow. I like to read them anyway. I’m not alone. Chekhov death fanatics abound.

His last sip of champagne. The whole thing about the popping of the cork, I forget what exactly. The enigmatic words he likely never said: Has the sailor left? But wouldn’t it be wonderful if he had said them? What sailor? Where’d he go?

His wife, the actress Olga Knipper, wrote that a huge black moth careened around the room crashing into light bulbs as he took his final breaths. Olga was present in the room, of course, but I don’t think she was above creating myths, either. They had only so little time together, less than five years.

In 2018, a team of scientists examined the proteins in the bloodstains on Chekhov’s nightshirt, in an effort to determine the precise cause of death. The shirt had been preserved as a relic.

This morning I’ve been wandering through Gustaw Herling’s Journal Written at Night, a book that took thirty years to finish and that consists of essays and fragments that read like private messages. Herling was a member of the Polish resistance who was sentenced, by the Soviets, to hard labor in a prison camp near the Arctic Ocean. The reason? The Soviets didn’t like his name. Herling, in Russian, sounded too much like Göring, as in Hermann. After his release, he spent much of the rest of his life in Italy. In a brief paragraph on the death of Chekhov, Herling includes a detail I don’t remember having come across before. Herling says that in June 1904, just after Chekhov and Olga arrived in Badenweiler, Chekhov insisted they change hotels because he wanted a room with a balcony. They found another hotel. Nobody ever mentions the balcony. Or that Chekhov must have spent hours sitting out there, watching people go in and out of the post office across the street. Till the end, he worked. Imagine him studying each face, what he could see of them from up there, every gesture.

“Other People’s Partings”, Peter Orner, The Paris Review

Comments are closed.