Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The ravelled sleeve of care

This week’s Futures story is The ravelled sleeve of care by Anatoly Belilovsky. Born in what is now Ukraine, Anatoly is a paediatrician based in New York. This week’s story is the fourth piece he has written for Futures — he has previously introduced us to the Gifts of the Magi, as well as Bottled up and Nor custom stale. You can find out what he’s up to by following him on Twitter. Here, he explains the origins of his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing The ravelled sleeve of care

Everything I know about writing I learned from Chekhov. Consider this bit of wisdom:

“Don’t tell me the Moon is shining; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass —”

Actually, this may be apocryphal. What he DID say, in a story called Hydrophobia, was:

“The dam, flooded with moonlight, showed not a bit of shade; on it, in the middle, the neck of a broken bottle glittered like a star.”

The proximate inspiration for The ravelled sleeve of care is the story considered to be Chekhov’s most iconic, yet rarely referred to by name. It is Van’ka, a story of a nine-year-old boy apprenticed to a shoemaker (a subtle tug on the Russian heartstrings, where “drinks like a shoemaker” is an axiom),  who writes a letter to his grandfather (using, again, the heartrending diminutive “dedushka” as opposed to the generic “ded”) begging to be returned to what is left of his family, promising to be good, asking his grandfather to beat him if he is not — and, in Chekhov’s inimitable style, he attaches the stamps (no doubt bought instead of food or clothes) and addresses the letter “Na derevnyu dedushke” — “To my grandfather in the village”.

The other inspiration for this story is Srinivasa Ramanujan, the great and tragic genius autodidact. Van’ka’s tragedy was that he would (in the reader’s mind) never leave his post; Ramanujan’s tragedy was that he did, shortening his life considerably. At the end of The ravelled sleeve of care, I hope I leave the reader with the distinctly un-Chekhovian hope that things will get better.

And in a distinctly non-Nature manner, allow me to qualify this with: ‘somehow’.


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