The physician Tsvyetkov visits a child who is dying of a brain tumor, and the boy's mother. There is no hope, nothing to be done. Tsvyetkov has had one romantic fling in his life; when he was younger, he had an affair with the boy's mother. She has always told him that Misha was his son. Yet she also had affairs with other men around the same time; one of them might be the father. Tsvyetkov suspects that she insists that he is the father just so he will continue to make payments to support them, which he has always done. As he leaves, he asks the boy's mother one last time, "It can make no difference now. Is the boy mine?" She hesitates for a moment, but answers, "Yes. he is your son."


An early tale (1887) that Chekhov did not choose to include in his Collected Stories. A fascinating dynamic emerges: what feelings should Tsvyetkov have for this dying boy? As a physician, he should be compassionate, but relatively detached. But as the boy's father? Certainly the loss of a son must affect him profoundly. He does all he can to avoid losing his son. Medicine can't cure the tumor, but perhaps Tsvyetkov is not really the boy's father. In that case, he can avoid the pain. Thus, he begs the woman to tell him the truth, obviously wanting to be let off the hook. But she will not be swayed. "You must suffer just as much as I do," she seems to be saying. "You cannot distance yourself."


Frst published: 1887. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 13: Love and Other Stories



Place Published

New York