Tolstoy stood looking out the third story window of his city townhouse, reading intently the text on the many vans and box trucks passing through the intersection below. He squinted and removed a fragile pair of wire spectacles, which he cleaned with the edge of his smock before wrapping the stems around his ears. “Better,” he muttered, “but far from perfect.”
On the roll top desk behind him, on a single sheet of paper, written in long slanting script, was a block of text ending with the line, “‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘Ivan Ilyich is – is what?’”
His wife walked into the room on her daily route to dust this or wipe down that. “Why are you not at work?!” she exclaimed, seeing him bent at the window. “You have not finished a story in months!”
“Quiet, woman! A wife is an encumbrance one welcomes once and regrets interminably. I am awaiting a delivery!”
Tolstoy’s wife rolled her eyes, stamped a foot, and went on her way. “Impossible man!”
Two hours later, Tolstoy was still at the window. He was awaiting delivery of a porcelain figure he’d seen online, a rendering of a worker, a farmer, planting, his hands in a plot of ground represented by a small patch of glossy brown paint. That unassuming spot, as soon as he laid eyes upon it, consumed Tolstoy’s mind – it was all he could think of, especially in conjunction with the worker’s expression, which might have been described as extremely satisfied, perhaps even happy. He placed the order immediately – money was no object, though he did use a card his wife didn’t share, knowing she wouldn’t see the itemized bill. From that point until this, Tolstoy had thought of almost nothing but the figure, what it meant or could mean to him. Somehow it brought him relief from his work, his failing health, his increasing uncertainty.
* * *
When the truck didn’t pull up by evening, Tolstoy decided to check his order. His fingers worked slowly upon the screen of the tablet as his eyes strained and mind bent to make sense of the world of modern commerce. It was supposed to have arrived on this day. Tolstoy cleared his throat several times; on top of everything he’d a cold all winter and hadn’t been able to shake it. Finally he found the tracking number and thence the package’s location – it hadn’t left the shipping facility. Scowling, he googled the address; it wasn’t far, an hour by horseback. He put on his heavy overcoat, tall riding boots, and procured from a closet a small satchel to hold the package. He was on the front landing when he yelled to his wife, “Mama! I must go!” before closing the heavy door behind him.
But she hadn’t heard. She was upstairs, vacuuming.