(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Filip, a middle-aged man, sits in his room on the fourth floor of an old house in the commercial area of a city. He is reading a Russian novel, as is his late-evening habit. After becoming aware of a small mouse scurrying about the room, he baits a trap to catch it. There are many mice in the building; he knows he must try to eradicate them but feels pity for the bright-eyed rodent. He says, “Mean—so mean, to appeal to the hunger of any living thing just in order to destroy it.” This sentence becomes a key to the flashbacks that follow.

Filip remembers having been a sensitive child who was upset at having to carry dead larks, tied by the feet, home for supper. When he got home, his face stained with tears, he discovered his mother expressing breast milk into their fire; she was weaning his baby sister. As his mother allowed him to help squeeze out her milk, he noticed her heart beating, then felt his own heart beat. His mother noted that the heart must beat for one to live. Filip kissed his mother and cried out, “Little mother! Little mother!”

The next day Filip’s world changed forever when his mother was knocked down in the street by a horse, and a cart ran over her hands, crushing them. Her hands were amputated and she died shortly thereafter.

Haunted by the image of his handless mother, Filip grew into a questioning man who found justice and sin and property and virtue incompatible. His rebellious spirit was rebuffed...

(The entire section is 471 words.)