Author’s Note: In Chekhov’s story, Anna and Gurov meet when they are on holiday in Yalta, a resort town on the Black Sea. They spend a few weeks together, and then Anna returns to her home in St. Petersburg and Gurov returns to his home in Moscow.
In my revision, the Internet replaces Yalta. In choosing American cities to replace the Russian ones, I considered cultural and physical geography. I settled on the Silicon Valley, a place name that grew out of the digital revolution. Thus when they meet, Anna is at her home in San Jose and Gurov is on a business trip to San Francisco. He then returns to his home in Seattle, the home of Starbucks, the quintessential surfing location.
A new person had appeared on his Who to Follow list: a lady with a little dog. @Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight on Twitter, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in a Starbucks, surfing, he saw, on her profile page, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.
And afterwards he found her on Tumblr and on a Facebook group several times a day. She was online a lot, always wearing the same beret profile photo, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and she called herself simply “the lady with the dog.”
“If she is here alone in her pic without a husband or friends, it wouldn’t be amiss to make her acquaintance,” Gurov reflected.
He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read Breitbart.com a great deal, used phonetic spelling not only in texts, called her husband, not @Dmitri, but @Dimitri, so he often missed her tweets, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago—had been unfaithful to her often, facilitated by his social media accounts and business travel; almost always spoke ill of women when posting as anonymous, and when they were talked about in his PMs, used to call them “the lower race.”
It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without porn, ie, “the lower race.” In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when online in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave; and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favor, until they checked his phone; he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.
Experience often repeated, truly bitter experience, had taught him long ago that with decent people, especially Facebook people—always vaguebooking and oversharing—every intimacy, which at first so agreeably diversifies life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of cat pics and someecards, and in the long feeds the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman online this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for social media, and everything seemed simple and amusing.
One evening he was dining in his room, and the lady in the béret came up on ChatRoulette. Her expression, her wall, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she was a lady, that she was married, that she was in there for the first time and alone, and that she was bored there… The stories told of the immorality in such places as ChatRoulette are to a great extent untrue; he despised them, and knew that such stories were for the most part made up by persons who would themselves have been glad to sext if they had been able; but when the lady appeared on the screen across from him, he remembered these tales of dick pics, of trips to live chat sex, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a virtual romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him.
He beckoned coaxingly to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came up to the screen he shook his finger at it. The Pomeranian growled: Gurov shook his finger at it again.
The lady looked at him and at once dropped her eyes.
“He doesn’t bite,” she said, and blushed.
“Wouldn’t it be great if I could give him a bone?” he asked; and when she nodded he asked courteously, “Have you been long on Chat Roulette?”
“And I have already dragged out a night here.”
There was a brief silence.
“The Internet goes fast, and yet it is so dumb here!” she said, not looking at him.
“That’s only the fashion to say it is dumb here. Someone will hang out on Facebook or Reddit and not be bored, and when he lands here it’s ‘Oh, the boredom! Oh, the idiots!’ One would think he came from the Singularity.”
She laughed. Then both continued in silence, like strangers, but soon they traded IDs and moved to Skype; and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfied, to whom it does not matter what they talk about. He talked of a strange pic on Instagram; a photo of light on the sea: the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it. She talked of how slow her ISP was today. Gurov told her that he came from Seattle, that he had taken his degree in Liberal Arts, but was consulting in Silicon Valley; that he had trained as an opera-singer, but had given it up, that he owned two houses in Seattle… And from her he learnt that she had grown up in Palo Alto, but had lived in San Jose since her marriage two years before, that her husband was consulting in Pasadena. She was not sure whether her husband had a tech post in a business startup or a business post in a tech startup, and was amused by her own ignorance. And Gurov learnt, too, that she was called Anna Sergeyevna.
Afterwards he thought about her in his room at the Palace Hotel—thought she would certainly meet him next day on Skype; it would be sure to happen. As he got into bed he thought how lately she had been a girl at school, doing lessons like his own daughter; he recalled the diffidence, the angularity, that was still manifest in her laugh and her manner of talking with a stranger. This must not have been the first time in her life she had been online in surroundings in which she was followed, looked at, and spoken to merely from a secret motive, which she could hardly fail to guess. He recalled her slender, delicate neck, her lovely grey eyes.
“There’s something pathetic about her, anyway,” he thought, and fell asleep.
A week had passed since they had connected. It was a federal holiday. It was sultry indoors, while in the street the wind whirled the dust round and round, and blew people’s hats off. It was a thirsty day, and Gurov often went onto the Internet, and pressed Anna Sergeyevna to come to San Francisco to meet IRL, to call, to have a coffee. One did not know what to do with oneself.
In the evening when the wind had dropped a little, he went on Facebook. There were a great many people in the “available to chat” list. And two peculiarities of a Facebook crowd were conspicuous: old high school friends and a great number of self-marketers.
Anna Sergeyevna picked up her phone and looked through her contacts list as though to text, and when she pressed “call” under Gurov her eyes were shining. She talked a great deal and asked disconnected questions, forgetting next moment what she had asked; then she dropped her phone.
It was getting dark. The wind had completely dropped, but Anna stood still, as though waiting for a sign. Anna Sergeyevna was silent now.
“The weather is better this evening,” he said. “Shall we meet IRL now? Or shall we video chat?”
She made no answer.
Then he looked at his phone intently, to see if the call had been dropped.
“Let us go to our bedrooms,” he said softly.
And both walked quickly, picking up their laptops.
Her room was close and smelt of the scent she had bought at the Japanese shop.
Gurov looked at her through the screen and thought: “What different people one meets in the world!” From the past he preserved memories of careless, good-natured women, who cyberloved cheerfully and were grateful to him for the happiness he gave them, however brief it might be; and of women like his wife who loved IRL without any genuine feeling, with superfluous phrases, affectedly, hysterically, with an expression that suggested that it was not love nor passion, but something more significant; and of two or three others, very beautiful, cold women, on whose faces he had caught a glimpse of a rapacious expression—an obstinate desire to snatch from life more than it could give, and these were capricious, unreflecting, domineering, unintelligent women not in their first youth, and when Gurov grew cold to them their beauty excited his hatred, and the lace on their linen seemed to him like scales.
But in this case there was still the diffidence, the angularity of inexperienced youth, an awkward feeling; and there was a sense of consternation as though someone had suddenly knocked at the door. The attitude of Anna Sergeyevna—“the lady with the dog”—to what had happened was somehow peculiar, very grave, as though it were her fall—so it seemed, and it was strange and inappropriate. Her face dropped and faded, and on both sides of it her long hair hung down mournfully; she mused in a dejected attitude like “the woman who was a slut” in an old-fashioned picture.
“It’s wrong,” she said. “You will unfriend me now.”
There was a basket of Ghirardelli squares on his nightstand. Gurov began eating them without haste. There followed at least half an hour of silence.
Anna Sergeyevna was touching; there was about her the purity of a good, simple woman who had seen little of life online. The solitary candle burning on the table threw a faint light on her face, yet it was clear that she was very unhappy.
“How could I despise you?” asked Gurov. “You don’t know what you are saying.”
“God forgive me,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears. “It’s awful.”
“You seem to feel you need to be forgiven.”
“Forgiven? No. I am a bad, low woman; I despise myself and don’t attempt to justify myself. It’s not my husband but myself I have deceived. And not only just now; I have been deceiving myself for a long time. My husband may be a good, honest man, but he is a loser! I don’t know what he does there, what his work is, but I know he is a loser! I was twenty when I was married to him. I have been tormented by curiosity; I wanted something better. ‘There must be a different sort of life,’ I said to myself. I wanted to live! To live, to live!.. I was fired by curiosity… you don’t understand it, but, I swear to God, I could not control myself; something happened to me: I could not be restrained. When he called, I told my husband I was ill, and came online… And here I have been having cybersex as though I were dazed, like a mad creature;… and now I have become a vulgar, contemptible woman whom any one may despise.”
Gurov felt bored already, listening to her. He was irritated by the naïve tone, by this remorse, so unexpected and inopportune; but for the tears in her eyes, he might have thought she was jesting or playing a part.
“I don’t understand,” he said softly. “What is it you want?”
She hid her face and leaned close to the screen, “Believe me, believe me, I beseech you…” she said. “I love a pure, honest life, and cyber cheating is loathsome to me. I don’t know what I am doing. Simple people say: ‘It was just online, it wasn’t IRL.’ And I may say of myself now that it was just online, it wasn’t IRL.
“Hush, hush!…” he muttered.
He looked at her fixed, scared eyes, kissed her face on the screen, talked softly and affectionately, and by degrees she was comforted, and her gaiety returned; they both began laughing.
Afterwards when he went out there was not a soul on the sea-front. The town with its palm trees had quite a deathlike air, but the sea still broke noisily on the shore; a single barge was rocking on the waves, and a lantern was blinking sleepily on it.
He went for a walk to a Starbucks on the Embarcadero.
“I found your surname on whois.net just now: it was given for your web site,” he texted—“Von Diderits. Is your husband a German?”
“No, I believe his grandfather was a German. Why?”
He sat on a seat not far from a church, looked down at the sea, and was silent. The bay was hardly visible through the mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, gulls called, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Internet, no Embarcadero here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting connected with a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings—connected across the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky—Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.
A man walked up to him—probably a maintenance man—looked at him and walked away. And this detail seemed mysterious and beautiful, too. A steamer came from the south, with its lights out in the glow of dawn.
“My battery is almost dead,” texted Anna Sergeyevna.
“Yes. It’s time to go offline.”
Then they met every day at twelve o’clock on chat, lunched and dined together, went for cybersex, admired each other. She complained that she slept badly, that her heart throbbed violently; asked the same questions, troubled now by jealousy and now by the fear that he did not respect her sufficiently. And often during the day, when there was no one near his phone, he suddenly sexted her passionately. Complete idleness, this cybersex in broad daylight while he looked round in dread of some one’s seeing the heat on his face, the smell of the sea, and the continual passing to and fro before him of busy, well-dressed, well-fed people, buried in their gadgets made a new man of him; he told Anna Sergeyevna how beautiful she was, how fascinating. He was impatiently passionate, he would not move away from his connection to her, while she was often pensive and continually urged him to confess that he did not respect her, did not love her in the least, and thought of her as nothing but a common whore. Rather late almost every evening they Skyped for hours and the expedition was always a success.
They were expecting her husband to come home, but a text came from him, saying that there was something wrong with his eyes, and he entreated his wife to come as quickly as possible. Anna Sergeyevna made haste to go.
“It’s a good thing I am going away,” she said to Gurov. “It’s destiny!”
She went by train. When she had got into a compartment of the express, and when the second bell had rung, she said through video chat, “Let me look at you once more… look at you once again. That’s right.”
She did not shed tears, but was so sad that she seemed ill, and her face was quivering.
“I shall remember you… think of you,” she said. “God be with you; be happy. Don’t remember evil against me. We are parting forever, we shall have no contact online—it must be so, for we never have met. Well, God be with you.”
Gurov happened to be standing on a BART platform, watching another train move off rapidly, its lights soon vanished from sight, and a minute later there was no sound of it, as though everything had conspired together to end as quickly as possible that sweet delirium, that madness. Left alone on the platform, and gazing into the dark distance, holding a dead phone, Gurov listened to the chirrups of cell phones and the hum of the third rail, feeling as though he had only just waked up. And he thought, musing, that there had been another episode or adventure in his life, and it, too, was at an end, and nothing was left of it but a memory… He was moved, sad, and conscious of a slight remorse. This young woman whom he never met had not been happy with him; he was genuinely warm and affectionate with her, but yet in his manner, his tone, and his electronic caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the coarse condescension of a happy man who was, besides, almost twice her age. All the time she had called him kind, exceptional, lofty; obviously he had seemed to her different from what he really was, so he had unintentionally deceived her…
Here at the station was already a scent of autumn; it was a cold evening.
“It’s time for me to go north,” thought Gurov as he left the platform. “High time!”
At home in Seattle everything was in its winter routine; the fireplaces were stoked, and in the morning it was still dark when the children were having breakfast and getting ready for school, and the nanny would fire up the video games for a short time. The frosts had begun already. When the first snow has fallen, on the first day of wearing boots it is pleasant to see the white earth, the white roofs, to draw soft, delicious breath, and the season brings back the days of one’s youth. The madronas, white with hoar frost, have a good-natured expression; they are nearer to one’s heart than palms, and near them one doesn’t need to think of San Francisco.
Gurov was Seattle born; he arrived in Seattle on a fine frosty day, and when he put on his fur coat and warm gloves, and walked along McGraw Street, and when on Sunday morning he heard the ringing of the bells, his recent trip and the places he had seen lost all charm for him. Little by little he became absorbed in Seattle life, greedily read three neighborhood blogs a day, and declared he did not read print newspapers to save trees on principle! He already felt a longing to go to restaurants, clubs, dinner-parties, anniversary celebrations, and he felt flattered at entertaining distinguished lawyers and artists, and at playing cards with a professor at the doctors’ club. He ate platefuls of fish, chips, and clam chowder.
In another month, he fancied, the profile image of Anna Sergeyevna would be shrouded in a mist in his memory, and only from time to time would visit him in his dreams with a touching smile as others did. But more than a month passed, real winter had come, and everything was still clear in his memory as though he had parted with Anna Sergeyevna only the day before. And his memories glowed more and more vividly. When in the evening stillness he heard from his study the voices of his children, playing their video games, or when he listened to his iPod, or the rain howled in the chimney, suddenly everything would rise up in his memory: what had happened online, and the early morning with the mist on the mountains, and the steamer coming in, and the cybersex. He would pace a long time about his room, remembering it all and smiling; then his memories passed into dreams, and in his fancy the past was mingled with what was to come. Anna Sergeyevna did not visit him in dreams or and didn’t post much on Facebook, though she didn’t unfriend him, and he cyberstalked her everywhere like a shadow. It haunted him. When he shut his eyes he saw her as though she were on a screen before him, and she seemed to him lovelier, younger, tenderer than she was; and he imagined himself finer than he had been online. In the evenings her profile image peeped out at him from the bookcase, from the fireplace, from the corner—he heard her breathing, the caressing rustle of her adjusting the web cam. In the street he watched the women, looking for someone like her.
He was tormented by an intense desire to confide his cyber affair to someone. But in his home it was impossible to talk of his love, and he had no one online; he could not talk to his tenants nor to any one at the firm. And what had he to talk of? Had he been in love, then? Had there been anything beautiful, poetical, or edifying or simply interesting in his virtual relations with Anna Sergeyevna? And there was nothing for him but to talk vaguely of online affairs that had gone public, of women with topless pics, and no one guessed what it meant; only his wife twitched her black eyebrows, and said:
“The part of a lady-killer does not suit you at all, Dimitri.”
One evening, in a comment stream with a friend, he could not resist saying: “If only you knew what a fascinating woman I made the acquaintance of on Twitter!”
The man said: “@Dmitri Dmitritch! Was she a cyberslut?”
These words, so ordinary, for some reason moved Gurov to indignation, and struck him as degrading and unclean. What savage manners, what people! What senseless nights, what uninteresting, uneventful days! The rage for liking and “disliking,” the usenet groups, the Twitstorms, the YouTube racists, the continual talk always about the same thing. Useless listicles and Facebook conversations always about the same things absorb the better part of one’s time, the better part of one’s strength, and in the end there is left an Internet groveling and curtailed, worthless and trivial, and there is no escaping or getting away from it—just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison.
Gurov did not sleep all night, and was filled with indignation. And he had a headache all next day. And the next night he slept badly; he sat up in bed, thinking, or paced up and down his room. He was sick of his children, sick of the firm; he had no desire to go anywhere online or to talk of anything.
In the holidays in December he prepared for a journey, and told his wife he was going to San Jose to do something in the interests of a young colleague—and he set off. What for? He did not very well know himself. He wanted to see Anna Sergeyevna and to talk with her—to arrange a meeting, if possible.
He reached San Jose in the morning, and took the best room at the Fairmont Hotel, in which the floor was covered with a great natural carpet, and on the table was an iPod dock. A quick Google gave him the necessary information; Von Diderits lived in a house in Willow Glen. It was not far from the hotel: he was rich and lived in good style; he was on Linked-In. Suri pronounced the name “Dridirits.”
Gurov went without haste to Willow Glen and found the house. In front of the house stretched a long grey stone fence.
“One would run away from a fence like that,” thought Gurov, looking from the fence to the windows of the house and back again.
He considered: today was a federal holiday, and the husband would probably be at home. And in any case it would be tactless to go into the house and upset her. If he were to send her a text it might frighten her, and then it might ruin everything. The best thing was to trust to chance. And he drove again up and down the street by the fence, waiting for the chance. He saw a UPS man go in at the gate and dog fly at him; then an hour later he heard a piano, and the sounds were faint and indistinct. Probably it was Anna Sergeyevna playing. The front door suddenly opened, and an old woman came out, followed by the familiar white Pomeranian. Gurov was on the point of calling out the window to the dog, but his heart began beating violently, and in his excitement he could not remember the dog’s name.
He drove around, and loathed the grey fence more and more, and by now he thought irritably that Anna Sergeyevna had forgotten him, and was perhaps already amusing herself online with someone else, and that that was very natural in a young woman who had nothing to look at from morning till night but that confounded fence. He went back to his hotel room and sat for a long while on the sofa, not knowing what to do, then he had dinner and a long nap.
“How stupid and worrying it is!” he thought when he woke and looked at the dark windows: it was already evening. “Here I’ve had a good sleep for some reason. What shall I do tonight?”
He sat on the bed, which was covered by a lush grey blanket, and he taunted himself in his vexation: “So much for the lady with the dog…so much for the adventure…You’re in a nice fix…”
That morning at the airport a poster in large letters had caught his eye. “FourSquare: Check In.” He thought of this and created an account.
“It’s quite possible she may check in somewhere,” he thought.
She did, at the War Memorial Opera House. As in all theatres, there was a fog above the chandelier, the gallery was noisy and restless; in the front row the old economy guys were standing up before the beginning of the performance, with their hands behind them; in the mayor’s box the mayor’s daughter, wearing a boa, was sitting in the front seat, while the mayor himself lurked modestly behind the curtain with only his hands visible; the orchestra was a long time tuning up; the stage curtain swayed. All the time the audience were coming in and taking their seats Gurov looked at them eagerly.
Anna Sergeyevna, too, came in. She sat down in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her his heart contracted, and he understood clearly that for him there was in the whole world no creature so near, so precious, and so important to him; she, this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a crowd, with a phone in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy, the one happiness that he now desired for himself, and to the sounds of the inferior orchestra, of the wretched violins, he thought how lovely she was. He thought and dreamed.
A young man with a van dyke, tall and stooping, came in with Anna Sergeyevna and sat down beside her; he bent his head at every step and seemed to be continually nodding. Most likely this was the husband whom, in a rush of bitter feeling, she had called a loser. And there really was in his long figure, his beard, and the small bald patch on his head, something of the loser’s geekiness; his smile was sugary, and in his buttonhole there was a Bose bluetooth headset.
During the first interval the husband went away to smoke; she remained alone in her seat. Gurov, who was sitting in a seat, too, went up to her and said in a trembling voice, with a forced smile: “Good-evening.”
She glanced at him and turned pale, then glanced again with horror, unable to believe her eyes, and tightly gripped the phone in her hands, evidently struggling with herself not to faint. Both were silent. She was sitting, he was standing, frightened by her confusion and not venturing to sit down beside her. The violins and the flute began tuning up. He felt suddenly frightened; it seemed as though all the people in the boxes were looking at them. She got up and went quickly to the door; he followed her, and both walked senselessly along passages, and up and down stairs, and figures in legal, tech, and business circles flitted before their eyes. They caught glimpses of ladies in couture; the draughts blew on them, bringing a smell of stale tobacco. And Gurov, whose heart was beating violently, thought: “Oh, heavens! Why are these people here and this orchestra!…”
And at that instant he recalled how when he had texted Anna Sergeyevna at the station he had thought that everything was over and they would never meet. But how far they were still from the end!
On the narrow, gloomy staircase over which was written “To Parking,” she stopped.
“How you have frightened me!” she said, breathing hard, still pale and overwhelmed. “Oh, how you have frightened me! I am half dead. Why have you come? Why?”
“But do understand, Anna, do understand…” he said hastily in a low voice. “I entreat you to understand… ”
She looked at him with dread, with entreaty, with love; she looked at him intently, to keep his features more distinctly in her memory.
“I am so unhappy,” she went on, not heeding him. “I have thought of nothing but you all the time; I live only in the thought of you. And I wanted to forget, to forget you; but why, oh, why, have you come?”
On the landing above them two schoolboys were looking down, but that was nothing to Gurov; he drew Anna Sergeyevna to him, and began kissing her face, her cheeks, and her hands.
“What are you doing, what are you doing!” she cried in horror, pushing him away. “We are mad. Go away to-day; go away at once… I beseech you by all that is sacred, I implore you… there are people coming this way!”
Someone was coming up the stairs.
“You must go away,” Anna Sergeyevna went on in a whisper. “Do you hear, @Dmitri Dmitritch? I will come and see you in Seattle. I have never been happy; I am miserable now, and I never, never shall be happy, never! Don’t make me suffer still more! I swear I’ll come to Seattle. But now let us part. My precious, good, dear one, we must part!”
She pressed his hand and began rapidly going downstairs, looking round at him, and from her eyes he could see that she really was unhappy. Gurov stood for a little while, listened, then, when all sound had died away, he found his coat and left the theatre.
And Anna Sergeyevna began coming to see him in Seattle. Once in two or three months she left San Jose, telling her husband that she was going to meet an old high school friend she’d reconnected with on Facebook—and her husband believed her, and did not believe her. In Seattle she stayed at the W Seattle hotel, and at once texted Gurov. Gurov went to see her, and no one in Seattle knew of it.
Once he was going to see her in this way on a winter morning (the text had come the evening before when he was out) and with him walked his daughter, whom he wanted to take to school: it was on the way. Snow was falling in big wet flakes.
“It’s three degrees above freezing-point, and yet it is snowing,” said Gurov to his daughter. “The thaw is only on the surface of the earth; there is quite a different temperature at a greater height in the atmosphere.”
“And why are there no thunderstorms in the winter, father?”
He explained that, too. He talked, thinking all the while that he was going to see her, and no living soul knew of it, and probably never would know. He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth—such, for instance, as his work at the firm, his discussions at the bar, his PMs about the “lower race,” his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities—all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilized man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.
After leaving his daughter at school, Gurov went on to the W Seattle. He took off his coat below, went upstairs, and softly knocked at the door. Anna Sergeyevna, wearing his favorite grey dress, exhausted by the journey and the suspense, had been expecting him since the evening before. She was pale; she looked at him, and did not smile, and he had hardly come in when she fell on his breast. Their kiss was slow and prolonged, as though they had not met online or IRL for two years.
“Well, how are you getting on there?” he asked. “What news?”
“Wait; I’ll tell you directly… I can’t talk.”
She could not speak; she was crying. She turned away from him, and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
“Let her have her cry out. I’ll sit down and wait,” he thought, and he sat down in an armchair.
Then he rang and asked for two venti lattes to be brought him, and while he drank his coffee she remained standing at the window with her back to him. She was crying from emotion, from the miserable consciousness that their life was so hard for them; they could only meet in secret, hiding themselves from people, like thieves! Was not their life shattered?
“Come, do stop!” he said.
It was evident to him that this love of theirs would not soon be over, that he could not see the end of it. Anna Sergeyevna grew more and more attached to him. She adored him, and it was unthinkable to say to her that it was bound to have an end some day; besides, she would not have believed it!
He went up to her and took her by the shoulders to say something affectionate and cheering, and at that moment he saw himself in the looking-glass.
His hair was already beginning to turn grey. And it seemed strange to him that he had grown so much older, so much plainer during the last few years. The shoulders on which his hands rested were warm and quivering. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and lovely, but probably already not far from beginning to fade and wither like his own. Why did she love him so much? He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination, whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives; and afterwards, when they noticed their mistake, they loved him all the same. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he had made their online acquaintance, got on with them, parted, but he had never once loved; it was anything you like, but not love.
And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love—for the first time in his life.
Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.
In moments of depression in the past he had comforted himself with any arguments that came into his mind, but now he no longer cared for arguments; he felt profound compassion, he wanted to be sincere and tender…
“Don’t cry, my darling,” he said. “You’ve had your cry; that’s enough… Let us talk now, let us think of some plan.”
Then they spent a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long at a time. How could they be free from this intolerable bondage?
“How? How?” he asked, clutching his head. “How?”
And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.