Mr. Anton (also called Sviddy-boy, but never to his face) had an air of something akin to arrogance, but it was more of a quality than a fault, though I don’t dare call it something as mundane as confidence. He never just walked; he always had an easy, high-class stride, shoulders back. He never wore jeans, or any shirt without a full column of buttons and a crisp collar.
He knew how to shake a hand, to make small talk look effortless, to cover people’s mistakes with a laugh, giving one the feeling that he made the same mistakes all the time, even though he didn’t.
He smoked the way movie actresses of the 1930s did: with flair. I never could match that offhand way he held a cigarette, like he didn’t quite care if it was still there when he went to take his next puff. Lord knows I tried.
He was unmarried. At least he didn’t have a ring. I don’t think he ever went with anyone either, but he always had a few girls by his side. He never did anything with them, as far as I could tell, but they were always around.
He lived in the renter house near the end of the main road going straight through town. People would move into that house for a little while, find that the small-town life didn’t suit them as well as they’d thought, and go back to their little ashy apartments in New York City, overlooking a park, maybe. We figured he was one of those people. But he stayed, for a year, and then two, and then we couldn’t remember exactly when he’d moved in.
All the same, he never really became a part of our town. The kids would follow him as he walked down the street, trying to figure out, maybe, how he was so different. They eventually concluded that he was wealthy, obscenely so, and had grown tired of Wall Street and had traded it for Main Street. I never believed a word. His story was much more than that, else he wouldn’t have stayed. Else he couldn’t have stayed. Wall Street men can’t stand our town; I knew that much.
Actually, I never took much of an interest in the man at first. I was in high school when he arrived, and he didn’t attract any sort of notice until a year had passed. Wives started their muttering, and pretty soon a rumor was going round that he was running from the law. This wasn’t true, of course, but kids will believe just about anything, so we had a few kids breaking into his house, looking for cash or guns or something. Husbands told their wives to cut out the gossip, which only really works for a little while, but the rumor died out on its own and was all but forgotten eventually.
By that time I was working at the grocery store. I was twenty-six, getting past the years when I wasn’t quite satisfied with how people said life was, wanting to find things out for myself. I started to think small, to give up on my dreams of traveling around the country on a motorbike. I started to focus on my town, and the little mysteries it contained. And when my meandering mind found its way to Mr. Anton Svidrigailov, I began to wonder what his story was, really.