“’One Less’” (short story) by Igor Rosokhovatsky
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970)
Original: Russian (“Одним меньше”), 1966
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1966
Synopsis: One nameless man careens through the city in his truck with disregard for safety as he’s more focused on his cigarette. Another man—named Victor Nikolayevich—is lost in thought as he dodders on the sidewalks of the same city mulling the mystery of the brain’s “group K”, which allows humans to display untapped powers of strength and self-healing by will alone; with his thoughts cascading, he abruptly finds the answer, just abruptly as his collision with the first man. A third man—a nameless witness—views the aftermath and plods away.
Analysis: Strangers are other people. They are formless shapes devoid of personality, character, and mannerisms. We have the tendency to depersonalize them as if they were shaped from a common mold, like one of the six million rivets that make up the Sydney Harbour Bridge—lose one and the structure still stands. The loss of that one rivet, however, creates further stress for the rest of the rivets, which could have a chain effect if more were removed.
Apply this back to the rivets of society we call strangers. Generally, all rivets have the same features: a head, a body, and a tail. Not all rivets, however, have the same dimensions—some are big, some are small. But when glancing at a rivet for the first time, perspective can diminish a rivet’s dimensions yet still keep its proportions; a small rivet could look just that, but a big, load-bearing rivet could look the same—if you shrug at the importance of the latter and you happen to lose or remove it… you had better be prepared for the consequences be they near or far.
In the story, the driver and the witness are of those people who see all rivets as one-in-six-million—a numerical inconsequence. Little did either of them realize, the one rivet that they would both cross paths with—Victor—could have relived them from what ailed them. Unbeknownst to them, the most central rivet just collapsed before their eyes and they didn’t even bat an eyelash. How could they have, though? Victor was just another one of the six million, an inconsequence, a numerical insignificance… there is very little significance in the number of one among the millions.
Review: Another tight, little story that ends as abruptly as it had begun. The five pages of the story coarsely weave in the first two threads: the driver of the truck and the scientist, who are destined to meet, as the reader can clearly predict. But toward the end, the third man—the witness—twists the perspective of the story ever so little, yet the torque is just enough to offset the predictability. The resulting effect completes the vision the author had intended and leaves the reader with a sense of guilt, almost.