In a provincial town, a young merchant of Bavarian kvass meets a walking woman in the evening. She, drunk, stands in a puddle and stomps her feet, sprinkling mud like children. The trader leads her to her house; she agrees to go with him, thinking that he is her client. “House” is a basement hole in which, except for a woman, her son lives with sick legs. She gave birth to him at the age of fifteen from an old sensualist, who served as a maid. Lyonka (so calling the boy) for days on end sits in his hole and very rarely sees a white light. He is entertained by collecting various insects that he manages to catch, giving them funny nicknames (spider – drummer, fly – official, beetle – uncle Nikodim, etc.), and endows in his fantasy with human traits that he peeps in clients of his mother. These insects make for Lenka a special world, which replaces him with the real, human. However, about the human world, he has a low concept, because he judges about him for those who come to their hole to have fun with his mother.
Mother’s name is Mashka Frolikha. She, apparently, is seriously ill (her nose has failed, although she does not consider herself “contagious”). She loves her son madly and lives only for his sake. At the same time, she is a finished man, sick and drunk. The future, therefore, does not promise her son anything good.
Lyonka is wise and serious beyond his years. He treats the mother as a small child, pities her and teaches life. At the same time he is quite a child, having no experience of life.
The trader (he is the narrator and the alter ego of the author) begins to visit the boy and tries to brighten up his life somehow. But the situation is so hopeless that in the end of the story the hero understands: he was at an impasse: “I quickly walked out of the yard, gritting my teeth so as not to howl.”