Short Story #2: Events by Daniil Kharms

Hello, back again with another entry in this series.  Not sure it needs a preamble, except to say it was predictably longer than a week between the first and the second installment.  Quelle surprise!  Oh well.  Here it is, and we’re still in the realm of the super short stuff…

I wanted to do a Kharms story and it was either this or Tumbling Old Women – that’s the one about a series of old women falling from their windows.  It begins:

Because of her excessive curiosity, one old woman tumbled out of her window, fell and shattered to pieces.

Daniil Kharms was a Russian absurdist active in the first half of the 20th century – he wrote stories, plays and children’s fiction and was arrested and exiled for anti-Soviet activity before dying of starvation in a psychiatric ward during the siege of Leningrad.  His short stories are ridiculous and fizz with manic energy and a refusal to bend to logic.

Here’s his short story Events (found in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms):

There will follow very little analysis, because I don’t know how to analyse it.  The whole thing is perfect.  It’s short and hectic, a relentless list of people whose sanity is being constantly chipped away at by inconveniences.  It gathers momentum pretty quickly and makes no attempt to explain why the death of Orlov seems to prompt this domino effect – or even if the series of deaths are connected.  Each of them is ridiculous

fell from the cupboard

and very funny. 

Our instinct is to look for meaning as each of the characters inevitably breaks down – as readers we are always looking to interpret everything, to search for meaning, whereas Kharms makes me think of this quote from Rene Magritte:

When people ask, “What does this mean?” they are afraid.  They express a wish that everything should be understandable.

We cannot hope to understand Orlov, Spiridinov, Mikhailov, Kruglov or Perekhryostov – like them this Kharms piece is is giddily unanalysable.  I don’t necessarily want to understand it, only enjoy it.  And I do enjoy it, every time I read it – I cannot explain exactly why.

Next time – we finally leave Eastern Europe and head to America, to Berlin.


[This was from a challenge issued last year.  The terms of the challenge were as follows:
– No more than 400 words –
– No character who appears in the first paragraph can appear in the final paragraph –
– No commas –
– No colours –
– No characters using their hands –
– No not mentioning egg]

Hobsworth had been useless for weeks. Bumbling round the house with both arms in a sling and it was his own bloody stupid fault.

“Is there anything you can do?” Glennis asked. “Anything? Think you could deliver some groceries to mother?”

It would be a treacherous walk through the forest for a man who could use neither of his arms. He wore a cloak for warmth since he was unable to entertain anything with sleeves.

Glennis mocked him: “That colour looks pretty on you.” And when he frowned: “Don’t be sore. I was only trying to emasculate you.”

Strapped to his back was a rucksack. Heavy root vegetables at the bottom. Loaves on top. Then a box of eggs. Hobsworth walked carefully. If he tripped on a root and crashed to the floor he would smash like a pile of plates.

He was surprised when the forest ran out before he reached the house. It had been a while and now part of the forest must have been cut down and built on. Glennis’ mother’s house was suddenly surrounded by other houses.

Hobsworth pressed his nose to the doorbell and heard the chimes ding-dong inside the house.  The sound of someone padding to the door. The sound of struggle as if unfamiliar with the mechanism.

The old woman finally got the door open.  She looked different. How many hours – or years – had he spent walking through the forest?  Were his arms healed yet?  He had forgotten how to try to move them.

“Mother?” He had never known her real name.

She was hunched and hair grew on her face.  As if time and boredom had scribbled on her then crumpled her.

“What a big bag of food.  I’ll be all the better for that.”

Hobsworth followed her inside.  Without the forest looking in through every window the house had a different atmosphere.

“There’s eggs and loaves and root vegetables.”

“But your arms are all broken.”

Hobsworth nodded.

“Oh dear.  And I’m all numb these days.”

Removing the groceries from the rucksack proved difficult. First they tried… then they considered… Lots of stop-start attempts and no success… lots of stopping to rethink the plan.

Finally the old woman decided she would do it with her teeth.

When Hobsworth was gone she looked at the vegetables and the loaves and the eggs where they had rolled and smashed in the struggle.

Then she fell to all fours and gobbled it all up.