The story begins with a description of a terrible fight between the Orlovs in their apartment, which is located in the basement of the old and dirty house of the merchant Petunnikov. Behind the fight watches the whole yard led by Senka Chizhik – pupil of the painter – a mischievous boy of 12 years old. Senka is a “passionate lover of all sorts of incidents,” “half-child, half-adult, lively and impressionable, like a sponge of moisture, greedily absorbs the dirt of his life, he already has a fine wrinkle on his forehead, a sign that Senka Chizhik is thinking.” Although these Saturday fights spouse shoemakers all the inhabitants of the house have become accustomed to, still resorting to gaze. Grigory always defeated Matryona and went to the tavern, and she, coy-like getting out of the cellar, was waiting for him to return to the street. She waited for him to help the drunken husband to go down to the basement, because once he dislocated his hand, falling from the stairs, and 2 weeks could not work. Gregory returned with a sense of guilt before his wife and hated her at these moments for the fact that she was right.
They were married for four years, they had a child, but they died, they hoped that they would have more children, but they were all gone. They lived very monotonously, got up in the morning, drank tea, worked together, Grigory did a clean job, demanding the hands of the master, Matryona did the job easier. Sometimes they sang, sometimes they swore. “Both of them – young and healthy people – loved each other and were proud of each other.” Grishka was so strong, hot, handsome, and Matryona was white, full, with a spark in her gray eyes, “a vigorous woman,” backyard. They loved each other, but they were bored to live, they had no impressions and interests that could give them an opportunity to relax from each other, satisfy the natural need of a person to worry, think, “to live.” Orlovs did not have a goal in life, so it was difficult to live with.
Once this monotony was broken. Early in the morning, a medical student came down to their room, he was interested in their health, advised to follow the cleanliness better, because cholera begins in the city, asked questions, gave advice, then left. All day the couple were impressed by his visit, they talked only about him. They were very pleased with his concern for them, since no one else was even concerned with them. In their gloomy cellar everything seemed to be illuminated by the energy of the youth and kindness of this student.
And the next day there was the first victim of cholera in Petunnikov’s house – the harmonious Mitry. Grigory was friends with him, they drank together in a tavern on Saturdays. Gregory always liked the harmony of his love of life, optimism, carelessness. He was a merry fellow and handsome, dressed adorably, in general, very fond of life. Grigory was one of the first to come to him and did not recognize him. It was no longer a man, but rather a corpse. This sharp contrast greatly impressed Gregory, he led the student, and the harmonica was taken away.
Grigory decides to go to the sanitarar in a cholera barracks “straight into the mouth of the mouth – swallow, and I’ll kick my legs,” he says of cholera. After some deliberation, Matryona decided to go along with him. The first day on duty was difficult, they were both very tired, then it became easier, because they were used to it. They live on different halves of the barrack and are not very often seen. Gregory very quickly earned respect from the senior doctors, because he was understandable, quick-tempered, and well performed his duties; and envy from their associates-orderlies. He has a great desire to become famous for his exploits, he wants to help everyone, he wants to share his thoughts with someone, but no one but Matryona. He often went to her and shared her thoughts, which she did not understand well, but listened to every word. There came a period of calm between the spouses, they no longer swore, did not fight, Gregory became more affectionate and caring. But along with the dreams of the great feat of Gregory, other thoughts also visited-about the equality of people he did not see; why do doctors enjoy the... rescue of Mishka Usov, who has a place in hard labor; thoughts of death, its suddenness and inevitability; thoughts about an unclear future, etc.
Matryona has also become a valuable worker, she does not have any global thoughts and contradictions in her soul, like Gregory, but her self-esteem has increased from her awareness of her need. She herself seemed to grow up in her own eyes and now she allowed herself a condescending tone in her conversations with her husband. She still loved her husband, but now felt that he owed her. Grigory did not even suspect about his self-consciousness awakened in his wife, since he could not even imagine such a thing.
In the barracks brought Senka Chizhik, he could not be helped, he died. Gregory, already accustomed to death, this death of the boy shook to the depths of his soul. “What’s the boy for?” – he embodied his feelings in one question… He told Matryona about the death of Senka, he was angry with the coldness, as it seemed to him, with which the wife took this news. His irritation with internal contradictions turned into anger at Matryona. Grigory began to reproach his wife for the fact that they still do not have children. After these words, Matryona broke through. She could not stand such an unfair charge from her husband. Only he is to blame for their childlessness: he was the one who beat her mercilessly all four years of his life together, “How did you torture me, torment me? Do you know how much blood was pouring from me after your torturing?” He killed you, he killed his own children! Really I’m not like all women – I do not want children! I see a stranger’s child – I choke with bitterness with envy and self-pity… “Grigory did not expect this from his wife, he was simply amazed.” She was now twice as strong as him, he felt it and was afraid; he could not get up and hit her like he would if he did not understand that she was reborn, having absorbed a great power from somewhere. “
After this conversation, Gregory left and did not appear until evening. He came and began to apologize to Matryona, but she only answered that she did not need anything from him. Then he took out a knife, but Matryona did not get scared, but said quite indifferently, “Oh, if you’ve slaughtered me.” Grigory put down his knife and complained to his wife that he was worse than the cholera – he had cramps in his heart, he was seized by thoughts of the purposelessness of human life, then, once again becoming furious, began to beat her, and again her indifference impressed him. The doctor ran to the noise and threw out Gregory, who was already completely utterly nonsense, himself realizing it. Barak, he calls morelnee, “treat the sick… and the healthy die from the tightness of life…”. Grigory calls Matryona to leave with him, but she firmly decided to stay.
Several times Orlov was waiting for his wife and beat him. After the dissolution of the barrack, the doctor ordered Matryona to teach the children shoe craftsmanship, she was given a room and 12 rubles salary. Since then, she has not seen her husband again. I took 2 children for my upbringing, and lived with them for these 12 rubles quite happily, although poorly. But most likely she develops consumption, because she coughs, and on her cheeks plays an ominous blush. She told the author the story of her life. The author found and Grigory in one tavern and talked with him for a long time, Orlov still thinks about the feat, but not for the sake of people, but simply to spit at all from the height of his contempt for them. “And tell them:” Oh, you bastards! Why do you live? How do you live? You are hypocritical and nothing more! “And then downside down and – Smashing!” About himself, he says: “I was born with anxiety in my heart…”
The story ends with a description of the tavern, in which the author and Orlov sit. “The heavy door of the tavern in which I was sitting with Orlov, now and then opened and at the same time squealed voluptuously, and the interior of the tavern aroused the notion of some mouth that slowly but inevitably absorbs poor Russian people, one after another, restless and others… “.