The Pallid Case of: Nicolai Stein

Dennis L. Siluk

I became good friends with Nicolai Stein. He was the son of a top chief in Paris, who was quite well off. But soon after I had gotten to know him, his parents had died mysteriously, or so it seemed; and somehow he had lost or squandered away most, but not all, his inheritance they had left him; which was quite a sum I heard. And so he left his Paris home for the Island of Nantucket, off the coast of old Cape Cod. If you were to ask me why, I couldn't tell you. This island is not huge by no means but has quite a long and enduring history for writers, whalers (of a century past), and artists of today, and so forth and so on. It has its beauty, its lighthouses, and its cobblestone streets, which add to its charm; and let's not forget its coffeehouses and historic inns. So by virtue of a most pleasant location, I trust he made a good selection in settling there for, as he said, '…a season.'

Nicolai had rented a hotel room at the Manton Coffin House, a stately three-story, brick mansion built in the mid l800's. Oh yes, it fit the gracious bygone world, and when he invited me to come live at the hotel, at his expense of course, and finish my book of poetry, I felt most obliged, and accepted immediately his kindly gesture; and upon my taking residence there I felt most comfortable at once in this sixty-four guest room complex; with all the modern amenities.

It was here where I got to know him quite well, or at least, so I thought, for does one really know anyone but himself, and seldom can we be sure of that over implication. In Paris we had chummed about, but not much, although he took a liking to me. I actually got to liking him more during the first month at the hotel. He was reserved, and seemed well educated; although he had kept to himself pretty much; that is to say, he preferred a quieter life than I. Should you had followed him around on a daily basis (in particular in Paris; as I look back now) I dare say you would find him with his little youthful friend, whom I will get to in a moment. But as I was about to say, you would have noticed he had a flood of mood changes more rapid than the blinking of stoplights. And when he was happy, he was ecstatically happy; and when sad, he was quite gray and gloomy, from his brow to his lowering of his eyes, to his hunchback positions.

But we had a few things in common, and this is where I feel he picked up a liking for me. He liked to read and write, and was the fastest reader I have yet to make acquaintance with. Nor would I care to compete with him in prose or poetry writing. But he always had pens and paper and unfinished manuscripts lying about. Not sure if he ever finished anything, but they were there, nonetheless; but I read his work and it was of a high quality, as I have said before, he was well learned.

As he walked about Paris, I had noticed he daydreamed a lot, much like here on Nantucket. He'd stop at his favored coffee shops, restaurants, like Café de Flora, etcetera: and have his double of caffeine, with a little hot milk on the side, and a piece of coffee cake. It was always the same, a man of habit, as they say; solely predictable.

His youthful friend's name, so I heard, was Sullivan. Not sure if that was a first or last name—surely Irish though; it was all he was called. No matter where he'd go, young Sullivan, I say about fifteen years old, young Sullivan would follow old Nicolai, like a bloodhound. It was only times when I was by him, he'd tell Sullivan to go find something to do, thus, insuring he was with me alone.


I had been sleeping when Sullivan had opened the door to my room and he woke me up, saying breakfast was about ready: then he proceeded to make eggs and taste, coffee, for we three lived together in the hotel suite, with separate room, and a kitchenette, so as not to have to run to the restaurant all the time to eat.

Said he, "Nicolai will be home shortly," it was close to noon, and I had stayed up quite late reading the previous night.

After breakfast, Nicolai proceeded to tell me about his so called little experiment, he seemed quite happy and excited to tell me, trusting I'd concur with his way of thinking. He had cross-bred a rabbit with a rat: "I want you to take a look at it Lee, this morning if possible?"

I put my coffee cup down on the table, replied with scientism:

"Are such things possible?" He looked at me a little funny; you know those looks that say: 'seeing is believing'. He was quite for the rest of the breakfast, and then afterwards he got a rush in his blood, insisting now I follow him to see his work of art. I had found myself saying, "Yes, yes, I'm coming," as if we were going to the Opera, or some grand event about to take place within the hour, and we must not be late.

"Yes, it really is something…" I admitted to him as he showed me this red serpent tongued creature, that had big eyes like an owl, and ears like a rabbit, teeth like a rats, tale like a cat. It sat upright, as if it spine was durable to the point of being able to bend and arch it at will. The tongue was a foot long, while extended outside its mouth. Oh yes, it was a feeble looking creature; strange and pitiful; it had web feet which looked more like a hoof, than a bunny's foot. It was all of three feet tall; perhaps seventy pounds.

Nicolai looked at me with a glare, I at him with mortification. The young boy was playing with the—what I called in my mind—the highbred, creature. Not knowing what to say, lost for words, and beyond, and I mean beyond fascination, my mouth must had drooped a food, jaw and all. Nicolai could see I was dumbfounded and lost for words. A cold breeze seemed to fill the moment for us three, or was it four now, with the rabbit-creature. Not knowing what to do, I simply buttoned up my sweater, were in an old barn on top of a hill, within the small village, the barn of sorts, or meeting hall, having a date of 1600's to it, was an old gray wooden building.

Nicolai walked the creature back into his huge cage, it licked his cheek as if it was quite found of him, so much so, I was much taken by it—sensitivity-wise. I was a bit surprised in his tenderness towards the creature, but I put it aside for the moment, thinking briefly, owners of pets are often kinder to animals than to their fellow man. Although Nicolai was kind to me, I had never seen him to anyone else but Sullivan; he was quite flat with affect, in showing emotions.

Speechless, I started to walk out of the large gray structure, with its old wooden unvarnished floors. Spontaneously, Nicolai burped out of his mouth: "Stop…!" and I seemed to freeze, for some odd reason. "How did you like my… [a pause] rabbit?" This was not a good time to evaluate friendship I told myself, but do I lie or tell the truth, at best it was disgusting, at worse, I had not yet found the world in the dictionary.

"Nicolai," I said with a kind of remorseless voice, "that is no rabbit, it is something but … only God, and maybe you know what!"

This was not what he wanted to her by far—I was not witnessing the burning hate within a beast. His face got read, his veins in his arms stuck out, his neck muscles seemed to go into contractions.

We now were outside the building, and he was pacing, walking the length of the fence that surrounded the property, which was a good one hundred feet or more, back and forth. Never saying a word but occasionally looking at me as if all was not over. He was mumbling, saying something I couldn't understand…a different language I'd expect, or so I concluded.


[Two weeks later] I had moved into another room, and the boy had come out of his to talked to me, saying Nicolai was very sick, and would not get out of bed. I suggested he call the doctor, but for some reason that was out of the question. I should first explain why I moved into the room next to theirs, and not in their apartment any longer. Nicolai, for some reason didn't quite trust me anymore, for whatever he needed to trust me for I didn't know at the time. In any case, he suggested I move out, and he'd pay the bill, for he didn't want me to move back home, or leave the island, but again, I was not in his full confidence. So now I shall return to where I left off. As I was about to say, Sullivan was quite disturbed with Nicolai's condition, and again, the doctor was out of the question.

"What do you expect me to day?" I asked the lad.

Said the boy, with a quivering lip, "You see sir, Nicolai was very proud to show you Nicolai Junior, and I think you hurt him." The boy looked awful pale trying to tell me this. I looked at him as if he was on some kind of drug, having hallucinations.

"The Rabbit sir," said the boy, "is my mother, and Nicolai is my father" I looked aghast—"What!" I said in disbelief; the boy didn't like the way I looked at him.

"We were twins," he continued. I said to myself, jokingly, a big mouse had bit him and made him ill, than I looked at his feet, they were fur, and webbed, like the creatures.

Top of Page