One of Chekhov’s most famous short stories is “The Lady with the Dog”, set in the Russian resort town of Yalta. I decided to use it to create a noir story set in 21st-century San Francisco called “The Jogger with the Dog”. An extract follows, after the original…
The Lady With The Dog
It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney’s pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a bret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.
And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same bret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply “the lady with the dog.”
“If she is here alone 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 a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, 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, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, 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 “the lower race.” In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when he was 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 favour; 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 Moscow people — always slow to move and irresolute — every intimacy, which at first so agreeably diversifies life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of extreme intricacy, and in the long run the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for life, and everything seemed simple and amusing.
One evening he was dining in the gardens, and the lady in the bret came up slowly to take the next table. Her expression, her gait, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she was a lady, that she was married, that she was in Yalta for the first time and alone, and that she was dull there. . . . The stories told of the immorality in such places as Yalta 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 sin if they had been able; but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a 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 him 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.
“May I give him a bone?” he asked; and when she nodded he asked courteously, “Have you been long in Yalta?”
“And I have already dragged out a fortnight here.”
There was a brief silence.
“Time goes fast, and yet it is so dull here!” she said, not looking at him.
“That’s only the fashion to say it is dull here. A provincial will live in Belyov or Zhidra and not be dull, and when he comes here it’s ‘Oh, the dulness! Oh, the dust!’ One would think he came from Grenada.”
She laughed. Then both continued eating in silence, like strangers, but after dinner they walked side by side; and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfied, to whom it does not matter where they go or what they talk about. They walked and talked of the strange light on the sea: the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it. They talked of how sultry it was after a hot day. Gurov told her that he came from Moscow, that he had taken his degree in Arts, but had a post in a bank; that he had trained as an opera-singer, but had given it up, that he owned two houses in Moscow. . . . And from her he learnt that she had grown up in Petersburg, but had lived in S—- since her marriage two years before, that she was staying another month in Yalta, and that her husband, who needed a holiday too, might perhaps come and fetch her. She was not sure whether her husband had a post in a Crown Department or under the Provincial Council — 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 hotel — thought she would certainly meet him next day; 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 have been the first time in her life she had been alone 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 made acquaintance. It was a 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 into the pavilion, and pressed Anna Sergeyevna to have syrup and water or an ice. One did not know what to do with oneself.
In the evening when the wind had dropped a little, they went out on the groyne to see the steamer come in. There were a great many people walking about the harbour; they had gathered to welcome some one, bringing bouquets. And two peculiarities of a well-dressed Yalta crowd were very conspicuous: the elderly ladies were dressed like young ones, and there were great numbers of generals.
Owing to the roughness of the sea, the steamer arrived late, after the sun had set, and it was a long time turning about before it reached the groyne. Anna Sergeyevna looked through her lorgnette at the steamer and the passengers as though looking for acquaintances, and when she turned to 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 lorgnette in the crush.
The festive crowd began to disperse; it was too dark to see people’s faces. The wind had completely dropped, but Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna still stood as though waiting to see some one else come from the steamer. Anna Sergeyevna was silent now, and sniffed the flowers without looking at Gurov.
“The weather is better this evening,” he said. “Where shall we go now? Shall we drive somewhere?”
She made no answer.
Then he looked at her intently, and all at once put his arm round her and kissed her on the lips, and breathed in the moisture and the fragrance of the flowers; and he immediately looked round him, anxiously wondering whether any one had seen them.
“Let us go to your hotel,” he said softly. And both walked quickly.
The room was close and smelt of the scent she had bought at the Japanese shop. Gurov looked at her and thought: “What different people one meets in the world!” From the past he preserved memories of careless, good-natured women, who loved 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 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 some one 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 sinner” in an old-fashioned picture.
The Jogger with the Dog
The rumor was that someone hot had appeared in the condo complex; a woman with a little dog. Douglas Graham, who had only been in San Francisco for a month himself but already felt at home, had begun to take a keen interest in the new arrivals. Sitting in Vicker’s living-room, with its bay views, he saw a blonde woman of medium height jogging along the Embarcadero in a sports-bra; a white Pomeranian was running along behind her. He saw her again in the gardens and patio of the condo complex. She always jogged alone, always wore the same sports-bra, was always with the same white Pomeranian. No one knew who she was, and everyone called her “the jogger with the dog.”
“If she’s new in town and doesn’t have a boyfriend, it would be a crime not to get to know her,” thought Graham.
He had just turned forty, and had a daughter of thirteen, now in high school. He’d married young, when he was still a graduate student in his second year of graduate-school, and now his wife (who was three years older than him), seemed twice his age. She was a tall, erect woman with thick eyebrows, stiff and traditional, and, as she said herself, not in the slightest bit intellectual. She watched soaps all day, used emoticons, called her husband Douglas, not Doug, and he considered her stupid, narrow, thick, and hated being home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago – had been unfaithful often, and (probably on that account) almost always spoke badly about women with his male friends.He had been so schooled by bitter experience to call them whatever he wanted, and yet he couldn’t go by for more than a few days without the company of women. Amongst his male friends he was bored, competitive and uncommunicative, but in the company of women he felt free, and he knew exactly what to say and how to manipulate; he was at ease with women even when silent. In his character, in his nature, there was something attractive and elusive which women found alluring; something he could take advantage of without even realizing it; and he knew that a force drew him inexorably towards them. Experience had taught him long ago that with people, especially Californians – always so mercurial – every intimacy inevitably becomes a problem to be extricated from. But with every new meeting with an exciting woman this experience seemed to slip from his memory, and he was eager with lust, and everyone he met seemed simple and amusing.
One evening he was having a drink in the gardens, and the jogger came up to the next table. Her expression, her walk, her casual and revealing dress, told him that she was married, that she was in San Francisco alone, and that she was bored. When the woman sat down with a beer at the next table, he recalled tales of easy conquests, and the thought of a swift, fleeting love-affair, a romance with an unknown beautiful young woman whose name he did not even know, suddenly grabbed him.
He waved to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came he shook his finger at it. The dog growled: Graham shook his finger at it again. The woman looked straight at him.
“He doesn’t bite,” she said, her face flushed from her recent run.
“Can I give him a treat?” he asked; when she nodded he continued, “How long have you been in SF?”
“I’ve only been here a month myself.”
There was a brief silence.
“I haven’t even had time to really see the city,” she said, still looking straight at him.
“There’s always so much going on. People from St. Louis or Kansas City come here and it’s ‘Wow! the pace! the energy!’ – You’d think they’d arrived here from Africa.”
She laughed. They continued drinking their beers, and entered into a light jesting conversation. They took a stroll along the Embarcadero: the water was a soft warm lilac, there was a golden streak to the moon. Graham told her that he was from New York, that he had a Ph.D. in Physics and now worked at an investment bank, that he’d trained to do research but had given it up, and that he now owned an apartment in Manhattan and a beach-house in the Hamptons…and he learned from her that she’d grown up in Boston, but lived in Los Angeles since her marriage two years ago, and that she was staying in San Francisco for a month on pleasure. Her husband was planning on coming up at the end of the month to be with her. He was an executive with a motion picture studio (she wasn’t sure if he was a producer or an executive producer), she was amused by her own ignorance. And Graham learned that her name was Anna Samuels.
Afterwards, he couldn’t stop thinking about her – he felt sure she would see him the next day. He thought how recently she had been in university taking classes like his own daughter; he remembered the diffidence, the angularity, the uncertainty manifest in her laugh and manner of conversing. This was probably not the first time in her life that she was alone in surroundings where she had been followed, gazed upon, and spoken to, merely from a secret motive which she could hardly fail to guess. He recalled her slender, delicate neck, and lovely grey eyes.
“There something pathetic about her,” he thought unkindly, and fell asleep.
A week passed – it was unseasonably warm. Parched, Graham went to the nearest bar and convinced Anna to join him for a pint. As the sun set the wind dropped, and they went out onto the pier. There was a big gathering for the yachts of the America’s Cup. Two peculiarities of the San Francisco crowd were very conspicuous: elderly women were dressed like women half their age; and there were a large number of wealthy men with women half their age.
Anna Samuels looked longingly at the yachts with their muscled crews, and when she turned to Graham, her eyes were shining. The crowd began to disperse, and the wind dropped. Graham and Anna stood around waiting to see if someone else would emerge from the yacht.
“What shall we do now? Want to go somewhere?” He asked.
She didn’t reply.
Then her looked at her intently, put his arm around her and kissed her deeply, breathed in the fragrance of her perfume; maintained his kiss for an inordinate amount of time.
“Let’s go back to your hotel.” He said, softly but firmly. They walked quickly.
Graham thought of two or three other lovers, beautiful, austere, cold women, on whose faces he’d captured an obstinate desire to snatch from life more than it could give, and when he grew tired of them their beauty excited his hatred. But in this case there was a diffidence, the sharpness of inexperienced youth, an awkward feeling; and there was a sense of consternation as though some one had suddenly knocked at his door. The attitude of Anna to what had happened seemed peculiar, grave, as though it were a fall. Her face dropped, her long hair hung mournfully; she mused like the woman who was a sinner in a Chekhov short-story.