The story’s opening introduces its multilayered narrative structure and the principal characters, particularly Sholom Shachnah Rattlebrain, about whom the (secondary) narrator weaves his fantastic and amusing tale regarding absentmindedness, all the while interrupting himself with amusing observations and comical asides. Prior to unfolding this narrator’s yarn, Sholom Aleichem expresses his own doubts about its veracity, thus implicitly shifting to that merchant-narrator any blame for telling a tall tale and expecting the reader to accept it as real.
The merchant-narrator chooses to illustrate the notion of absentmindedness (raised in some unexplained context in his conversation with Sholom Aleichem) by recounting what befell Sholom Shachnah, Kasrilevke’s rattlebrain, some time ago before the Passover festival. (The narrator and Sholom Aleichem are in a hurry themselves as they, too, prepare for the upcoming Passover.)
This Sholom Shachnah, a poor Jew and something of a real-estate broker, likes to brag about the company he keeps with wealthy landowners, but he can barely eke out a living for himself and his family. Finally, with God’s help, he takes part in an actual real-estate transaction. As soon becomes apparent, though, his share of the profits is jeopardized by some wealthy Jewish brokers of another province who have managed the transaction and are now threatening to cut him out of the commission. Standing up bravely against his adversaries, he finally receives his share, sending most of it back home (the deal is apparently conducted outside Kasrilevke) to defray expenses for the upcoming Passover celebration, pay off some debts, and provide for the children’s needs. Sholom Shachnah also keeps some money for his expenses and for gifts for the family.
Just before the onset of Passover, Sholom Shachnah telegraphs home that he will be “arriving home Passover without fail.” The only obstacle blocking his journey home turns out to be the time-consuming train ride, whose greatest difficulty is the critical transfer to the Kasrilevke train at the Zlodievka stop, where one must arrive before the Kasrilevke train’s departure and spend many late-night hours awaiting its arrival....
(The entire section is 912 words.)