Showing 121 - 130 of 457 annotations in the genre "Short Story"
The unnamed narrator recalls--he hesitates to use "this ghostly verb" (107) in the presence of Funes’s memory, in every sense of the word--the dialogue he had with Funes, a young man from Fray Bentos (in present day Uruguay), "a half century ago," (111) as an invited written dithyramb in his memory.
The narrator’s initial encounter with Funes, a tough living and working on a ranch, was to hear him give the time, in the middle of the afternoon, immediately and accurately as an innate skill. Later, when the narrator inquired what had become of Funes, he was told that the latter "had been thrown by a wild horse at the San Francisco ranch, and that he been hopelessly crippled" (109). It is at this point that the saga of Funes the memorious begins.
When the narrator visits Funes to recover some Latin texts the crippled and housebound Funes had requested, he enters to hear the autodidact Funes reciting from memory the section of Pliny’s Natural History relating to memory. For Funes, with only these texts and a dictionary, has learned Latin and memorized the texts. In fact, Funes, as a result of his injury, has learned to live in the present, a present that "was almost intolerable it was so rich and bright; the same was true of the most ancient and most trivial memories" (112).
His memory is so precise, so individual in detail that he develops a unique numbering system and that "in a very few days he had gone beyond twenty-four thousand" (113). Funes had ascribed to each number from 1 to 24,000 a unique name so that, "In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Máximo Perez [italicized in original]; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Train [italicized in original]. . . . In lieu of five hundred, he would say nine [italicized in original]" (113). In mathematical terms, Funes had treated each number as a prime, a unique integer without relation to other unique integers.
The narrator points this out to Funes, i.e., that "this rhapsody of unconnected terms was precisely the contrary of a system of enumeration. . . . Funes did not understand me, or did not wish to understand me" (113). [The reader would do well to remember that the Spanish for "rhapsody" is "rapsodia" and thus suggests "rhapsode," a singer of the Homeric poems, poems written by a blind story-teller (like Borges), and poems that required prodigious memories to recite.]
Dr. Forrest Janney, once a prominent surgeon, has given up his practice in the city and retired to his hometown in Alabama due to alcoholism. He runs the local pharmacy and keeps up his medical license, but doesn’t practice. His brother Gene begs Forrest to operate on their nephew, who is comatose from a gunshot wound in the head; he was sent home to die. Other doctors have refused to operate because the bullet is lodged close to a major artery at the base of his skull. Dr. Janney examines the young man. Although Janney declines to operate, citing his drunkenness and tremor, he encourages his family to keep trying to find a surgeon because he estimates a 25% chance of survival if the bullet is removed.
Shortly thereafter, a violent tornado plows through the town, leaving dozens of dead and wounded. Dr. Janney immediately pitches in with several other doctors to treat the wounded and makes supplies from his pharmacy available at no charge. The comatose nephew is also found in the wreckage, barely alive, and in order to give him at least a chance, Janney operates on him, despite being fortified by a heavy dose from his flask.
A few days later, the nephew presumably dies (not clear from the text). A little girl whom Dr. Janney has befriended is sent to the orphanage in Montgomery because her father died in the tornado. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Janney leaves town, after giving his house to his brother and his family. He is on his way to save the little girl from the orphanage.
A junior doctor goes to visit the daughter of a wealthy factory owner. (The professor was too busy to go.) The daughter had been ill for a long time and had just suffered "heart palpitations" the previous night. At first the doctor finds nothing wrong with her heart, and says that her "nerves must have been playing pranks" on her.
The patient’s family presses the doctor to stay for the night. During the evening, he reflects on the oppression of the dreary factory town and relates the sense of loneliness and confinement ("like a prison") to his patient’s condition. Later, in conversing with the young woman, he actually listens to her empathically, rather than just focusing on her symptoms or the function of her heart. He is then able to respond empathically to the young woman’s plight.
Kirilov is the district doctor. His six-year old son has just this moment died of diphtheria. He stands watching his wife caress the body as the doorbell rings. It is a wealthy stranger (Abogin) who begs the Doctor to come treat his wife who is in great pain. Kirilov says that he cannot possibly leave his wife at this time. Abogin insists, however, claiming that the doctor must know how terrible it is to witness the illness of a loved one and that his home is close-by. Kirilov relents.
But when they arrive at Abogin’s house, his wife is not home. She has pretended to be ill so that her husband would leave the house allowing her to run away with her lover. Abogin is crushed and begins to complain to Kirilov. Kirilov is fiercely angry that he has been dragged from his son’s death-bed to hear Abogin’s love troubles. They scream at one another, and the doctor returns home, with a firm and undying conviction that all those with money deserve his hatred.
A group of ex-Muscovites are living in the hot and humid Caucasus. Among them are Laevsky, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Von Koren, Samoylenko, and a deacon. Laevsky and Nadyezhda are lovers. They came to the town to flee Nadyezhda’s husband and to live together in their own home. Instead, they remain in rented rooms. Laevsky drinks, gambles, and blankly performs the few tasks necessary in his government job. He spends much of his time figuring out how to get away from Nadyezhda, whom he has grown to hate. Nadyezhda herself is bored and has affairs.
Von Koren is a rigid marine scientist who deplores Laevsky for his indecision and apathetic philosophy. Von Koren believes that creatures like Laevsky who do no good should be killed, because natural selection ought to guide ethical decisions. He tries to act out his plan when the two duel, but is surprised by the Deacon and misses his shot. Laevsky’s shock at his close call drives him back to Nadyezhda.
Samoylenko is a physician and tries to be a peacemaker, but ultimately gets walked on. The Deacon dreams passively about glory in the Church or even in a remote village, but does little except laugh at his neighbors. The story is composed of a series of visits and conversations among the characters.
Olga is a lovely, plump, and friendly girl; the kind of girl whom everyone wants to squeeze and cry delightedly, "You darling!" She marries Kukin, the manager of the amusement park, and lives quite happily, selling tickets to his shows and parroting Kukin’s opinions about the theater.
But Kukin dies while in Moscow on a business trip. Olga goes into deep mourning, but within a few months she marries Pustovalov, the timber merchant. Now Olga adopts Pustovalov’s opinions--all business, no theater. When Pustovalov dies, Olga begins an affair with Smirnin, an army veterinary surgeon who is separated from his wife. While she lives with Smirnin, Olga is full of talk about animals and their diseases.
Finally, Smirnin is transferred elsewhere; Olga is left with nothing to talk about--the darling has no opinions of her own. Many years later, Smirnin returns to the town with his wife and son. Olga becomes attached to the young boy and her eyes light up again. She has something to talk about!
The narrator is an ICU (intensive care unit) resident. He describes his encounters with three patients: a 23-year-old woman, Kimberley, shot in the head by her fiancé before he killed himself; Mr. Wilson, the alcoholic into whom Kimberley’s liver is transplanted after she has been declared brain dead; and Mr. Griego who, in a failed suicide attempt, has shot off his lower jaw.
In the call room there is a poster that reminds the doctor of a lake in Vermont where his family had vacationed when he was a child. The lake, alive with fishes, had filled the boy and his brother with expectation: "We wanted something to happen, we wanted it to come gliding out to us, miraculous, powerful, full of wonder." (p. 56)
When the resident’s thoughts are interrupted by Mr. Griego, who has leeches attached to the wound where his chin is being constructed, his recollections shift to another lake. Overgrown with algae, it had insufficient oxygen, no fish, and when he and his brother swam in it, they emerged covered with leeches. He recalls the violence with which his brother tried to kill one of the creatures, pounding it with a rock. The lake had become "repugnant" but also "exciting."
These memories are juxtaposed with Mr. Wilson, who has Kimberley’s young liver in its new, "damaged bed." The resident finds himself withdrawing from Mr. Wilson, whom he imagines as a ghost that has haunted Kimberley’s life, drinking it away, or as a kind of monster rising up from beneath the surface of a lake.
The resident is called out a third time, to transfer Mr. Griego to the floor. The leeches have been removed and killed and his chin is healing well, looking both "clean and terrible." His new face will scare his little daughter, the resident thinks.
Schatz, a 9-year-old American boy who lived in France, develops a fever of 102 degrees. A doctor diagnoses the flu and prescribes some medication. Over the next day or so, the boy’s father is surprised at how depressed and fatalistic his son is. At one point the boy asks, "About how long will it be fore I die?" The father is flabbergasted and assures the boy that he isn’t seriously ill. However, it turns out that Schatz had heard his school friends say that you couldn’t survive a fever of 44 degrees. Obviously, he was bound to die from 102. His relieved father explains to Schatz the misunderstanding--the French use Centigrade while Americans use Fahrenheit. The boy relaxes. He is not going to die.
When 47-year-old Henry Newman experiences testicular pain, he gets little pity from his wife, Arlene. His personal physician, Dr. Vikrami (a woman who has only reluctantly examined Henry’s "private parts" in the past) schedules him for an ultrasound study of the testicles rather than examining him first. A young nurse performs the test and a female radiologist apprises Henry of the findings-- epididymitis.
A urologist confirms the diagnosis, but Henry is more interested in learning that the doctor has a twin brother who is also a urologist. Henry goes to see his 80-year-old mother who resides in a convalescent home. She pesters him about checking on the condition of his brother’s grave. His brother, Aubrey, died as an infant, and Henry was born two years later.
Henry visits the cemetery and finds the small tombstone marking Aubrey’s grave covered by weeds and bird excrement. He tidies it up. When Henry returns to the convalescent home, his mother’s bed is empty. He fears she has died but then spots her exiting a bathroom. Henry tells her that he has finally spruced up Aubrey’s grave, but she seems oblivious to his announcement and just babbles on.
An expectant father waits to learn the outcome of his wife’s labor and delivery. In his brief exchanges with another father-to-be the reader is apprised of Mr. Knechtmann’s history. He and his wife are holocaust survivors; their only prior child died in a displaced-person’s camp in Germany--and there is no one to carry on the proud family name if this infant is not healthy. A bored nurse comes to inform Heinz that he has a son and everyone is well.
The ecstatic father seeks someone to share in his joy. The folks in the bar across the street could care less; the delivering physician just wants to go to sleep; the other father now has seven daughters and can’t get too excited about someone else’s son. Even a fellow worker whom Heinz meets on the street is politely unimpressed. Only when he can finally visit with the baby’s mother can he find a partner in joy. She says, "It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened, isn’t it?"