Матрос Лариса Григорьевна
Behind the Staircase

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  • © Copyright Матрос Лариса Григорьевна (LarisaMatros@aol.com)
  • Обновлено: 28/08/2008. 17k. Статистика.
  • Рассказ: Проза
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     Behind the Staircase
          Writers Under The Arch 1995, St.Louis
          Anna leaned in front of the open window of the car, closed her eyes and
    tried to imagine the coining  meeting with Rudik-.-.Blowing from.  the ocean
    was a special caressing wind, (typical only for a  summer  evening  in a sea
    climate) which combined and mixed the sun-heat with the salt sea-water.
          More than twenty years ago, the same breeze had played with the silk of
    her  flared skirt, uncovering her slim, tanned legs, which had  carried  her
    tirelessly around the pedestal of the A. E. Richeliett's (2) monument on the
    top   of  the  Potyomkinskaya  Staircase  (3).  The  irrepressible  laughter
    prevented her from running, and finally, let her down, when she had stumbled
    without strength and found herself in Rudik's arms. With all the strength of
    his  youthful body hardened  by sport, he had embraced her  so she could not
    move.  Raised by the wind, her flared skirt soared like the wings  of a bird
    and rushed to help her escape from the captivity of his arms.
          "Anna, Arnushka, Annyuta, I love you. I love you. I ask you, I beg you,
    don't run away," whispered Rudik,  embracing her harder and harder. Her face
    was pressed  near  his  heart, whose  strong  beats  muffled  his  voice and
    resonated  through her body with a feeling  she had never had before,  which
    made her want to cry.
          "Let me go! Do you hear me? Let me go!" She was resisting him. Then she
    took advantage of the sudden clumsiness, caused by his heartbeat, and darted
    down the stairway. After passing two flights of stairs, she  stopped and sat
    down, covering her knees  with her arms and laying  her head  on them. Rudik
    dragged himself guiltily along, and sat down next to her.
          They lived in the same neighborhood, studied at the same class, and had
    been  best  friends from early childhood. Once their parents  had  permitted
    them  to visit  downtown  alone without adults, the Potyomkinskaya Staircase
    became their  favorite place.  They  competed in walking up and down stairs.
    They counted steps,  thousands  of times, and  every time they missed one of
    the 192 steps or found an extra one, they started all over again.
          "What magic is  this staircase," exclaimed Rudik,  breaking the awkward
    silence.  "If  you  look  upstairs  behind the  staircase, you  can see  our
    glorious city. If you look down behind the staircase, there is the sea. If I
    would build a cottage right here, near  Richeliett, and live there, it would
    be  so  nice,  right?  I would  live next to the staircase  and  feel  I  am
    connected  with all the world through it! If Odessa would  not have anything
    else,  I would still  love it just because of the staircase!  Listen, Anna,"
    Rudik  exclaimed. He suddendy stood  up, then kneeled near her legs. "I want
    us  to swear we  will always  come to our staircase at my  birthday, despite
    anything, even after ten, twenty, ...fifty years."
          Anna had  laughted as if  she forgot about everything. Then  she got up
    regally, placed  her hands on her hips and raised her  head proudly. "Anna,"
    Rudik  proclaimed in theatrical manner,  trained at the drama class. 'Today,
    on my 15th birthday, under such a wonderful sparkling reflection of the moon
    in  the  sea,  in front  of Odessa's famous governor, A. E. Richelliett, who
    showed such  a great love of citizens they built this beautiful  monument, I
    swear forever..."
          "Come on, Rudka! My mom is right to  call you Don Quixote.  You  always
    have your fantasies. It is time for  you to become  an adult. You  will  get
    your passport (4) soon."
          Six years later,  exactly the same breeze  had  played with her  flared
    skirt, which she tried to tame,  embracing the skirt and her  knees with her
    arms, sitting on the second flight of the stairs. The breeze was blowing her
    tears away and traitorously spreading the mascara on her face.
          "Anna,  Annushka,  please  understand,  I  cannot  live  without  you,"
    repeated Rudik  over and  over  again,  sitting below her,  resting his head
    against her knees. "Ibegyou to leave, leave with us. You will be a member of
    our  family, and you will never feel we have a different  nationality (5). I
    promise you, I swear, I will do everything to make you happy. There is still
    time to  get  married here, and  there we will have  children, which will be
    born American citizens. Imagine, our son could be an American president!"
          "I have already told you everything. I  cannot and do not want to  move
    anywhere, and I have no right to do this. What would happen to my father? He
    has such high status. My parents would not forgive me for this."
          " But what would happen if we had gotten married when we were eighteen,
    when I proposed to you the first time? What would you do? Would you not move
    with your husband? But, I knew we would  not get married, because  your  mom
    did not consider me a good enough groom for you."
          "Many people say, a first love rarely leads to marriage," Anna tried to
    stop her sobbing with a playful tone. "So, statistics show, nothing wrong is
    going  to happen to you. Be happy." Suddenly  she streaked to the boulevard,
    ran down to the park and  hid in the bushes. She saw  Rudik looking for her,
          Since then they had no contact with one another for twenty years.
          Now, she could not explain to herself why she had decided to call Rudik
    right away, when she came on  a first visit for  a business trip to the USA.
    Maybe because  of  her hard work, which had brought her a great success  and
    title  of Professor, together with tiredness  and satisfaction. The constant
    hard  work had also  caused a  keen  desire to experience something, to feel
    herself  just a woman, desire the constant male attention, admiration, care,
    chivalrous   patronage,  daily  surprises,  confirming  love  and  devotion.
    Everything she obtained from Rudik since she had started considering herself
    a female. Now she knew for sure this is what she had been looking for in men
    all  those years.  After  Rudolf's departure  she had  boyfriends,  marriage
    without children, without happiness.
          Once Anne had  settled in the hotel,  she called  her  friends to  leam
    Rudik's phone number. However, the first time when shepicked up the
          receiver, she hung  up, unready to talk. Only the third time she dialed
    the  number did she wait  for  a  reply. Rudik  listened to  her through the
    receiver and responded as if  he was  not surprised by  her call. Obviously,
    the friends  who had given  her  his phone  number  had informed  him of her
    arrival. Without hesitation,  Rudolf invited her to a party the next day. He
    said it would be a  big reception, he would be busy preparing and his nephew
    would drive her to his
          The nephew drove with confidence, in spite  of traffic.  He was  silent
          the way. The car stopped near a small staircase which was attached to a
    hill  covered with  grass. The good looking two-story house was on the hill.
    "Here we are," the  nephew said, and  got out of the car quickly to open the
    door for the euest.  A big, stout, grey-haired man came out of the house and
    moved down the staircase. Only  when he  approached Anna,  did she recognize
    Rudik. He hugged her with unhidden excitement, kissed her, took her arm  and
    led  her  up  to  the house,  without saying a  word.  On the  hill stood  a
    beautiful, well-dressed/
          tall, stout woman.
          "This is Masha, my wife," Rudik said. Masha hugged and kissed Anna,
          as a close friend.
          "Welcome," Masha  said,  and  led  her  to  the house.  ""Уои will  see
    Odessians who  live here," said Rudik, pointing to the table, which was seen
    in the next room-
          "Well, we have a  big  Odessian company. We often get together and tell
    jokes all evening, like in Odessa. Even here we do not forget  we grew up in
    the city which is considered a capital of humor," Rudik said.
          "Oh, it's eight o'clock already.  They are just about to arrive," Masha
    said.  "We  could  have  scheduled the party in  two  days,  onSaturday, but
    Rudik's birthday is today, and I never postpone..."
          "Rudik, is  that right!" exclaimed Anna.  She came  dose to hug him and
    said, "What a coincidence! Sorry I forgot."
          "Rudik told me a  lot about you,"  said Masha, breaking a pause. "Since
    you  were  studying in the same class  with  Rudik,  I  expected to find you
    different. You are like a young girl, so  small and thin. How do  you do it?
    As  for me,  I grew stout,"  concluded Masha,  making excuses, pressing  her
    abdomen as if she wanted to drive it inside her body.
          "It is not  her fault, " Rudik inserted cheerfully.  "It is because  of
    our  bakery. We will show it to you. There is such  tasty stuff, you  cannot
    resist. That  is  why we  both grew  stout. Our bakery is  not  only a sweet
    paradise. It is also an art and architectural studio."
          At  that moment,  through the window Rudik noticed approaching cars and
    moved to open  doors. The crowd of cheerful well-dressed people came inside.
    All  were  about Rudik's and Masha's  age, except one  very beautiful  young
    lady, about seventeen years old,  who  came with  her parents. The newcomers
    looked like their meetings in Rudik's house were frequent events. They  took
    seats on sofas,  chairs, and the floor  in the living room, evalutating each
    other and the guest. Some faces dimly reminded Anna  of  girls and boys from
    her Odessa's street, but most of them were strangers to her.
          The guests warmly  welcomed Anna, who was solemnly introduced by Rudik.
    Then they started loudly  and jokingly to  discuss  their everyday concerns:
    cars, houses, work, relations in the  family and at work, which  were common
    components of their life and incomprehensible to Anna. She sat, turning  her
    head with  a  friendly smile. But she felt  out of  place  here, which  some
    guests  tried to dispel  by directing a smile to her while they  talked with
    each other.
          Rudolf and Masha came out from a kitchen and started to serve drinks on
    silver trays, and goodies: roast nuts, salt crackers, cheese. Rudolf did not
    know how  to involve Anna in  the hubbub. He brought a tray to  her and said
    playfully, "They are called appetizers here. At first I could not understand
    it.  Remember  how it  was in  Russia - right away at the table with drinks,
    food, toast! But now I even like it. First we sit in the family room, loaded
    with  strong drinks, chatting, become  acquainted, and after  that -  sit at
    table. You can conclude in advance, which people you want to  sit next to at
    the table."
          "Yes,  yes,"  a  bright,  thin,  bleached  blond, sitting  in  a  chair
    interrupted him  cheerfully.  "It is  very important  to get  used  to  your
    neighbor. Sometimes the  hostess seats guests  around the  table, but  I for
    example, never sit next to Rudik to save my life. His cologne makes me sick.
    Generally speaking,  everybody here in America likes  to smell "strongly" of
    something. Those deodorants, perfumes..."
          "Do you prefer the smell  of  sweat as,  for example,  was  in Odessa's
    buses during the hot summer, when most people  were  in synthetic wear?" one
    guest laughed.
          "I don't  know. I would  prefer you to  smell of sweat, rather than the
    cologne. Once you leave my house, I have to ventilate it all night."
          "Yes,  as  for  me,  I   like  everything  natural,"   said   a  stout,
    bright-colored blond, who  was obviously the mother  of the young  lady.  "A
    body should be fresh, then it will have a scent of its  own. Those odors can
    only veil..."
          " As a matter of fact, I read," interrupted a flirty, slender brunette,
    "a male sweat even inspires women..."
          "Well, dear ladies,"  exclaimed  the fat man with a loud  laugh, "now I
    know what to do to attract your attention."
          Suddenly,  the  tall man  with  a  big shock of  black  and white hair,
    sitting on the floor next to  a  coffee  table, interrupted the laughter and
    asked seriously:
          "Anna, why would  you not  move to America?  You see  how we live  here
    merrily and friendly. Here, are almost all our schoolmates!"
          "Well, it would be very difficult for Anna to move now," said Masha, as
    if  she was informed  all about Anna's life. "It would be much better if she
    had moved seventeen years ago, like most of us." (During Masha's words, Anna
    caught the passing glance  form Rudolf.) "Now  she is  a professor, she  has
    status.  Here she would  start  all over.  There  are so many scientists who
    cannot find a job, especially in humanitarian areas."
          "What does it mean to be a professor!" interrupted the  same man. "Here
    it is not necessary to be a professor. Here money is the main thing.  If you
    can make money...
          you can, for example, open a restarurant.."
          "Oh!  Don't  listen to them!" interrupted the girl emotionally, sitting
    in front of Anna. "Here I  have a friend,  she is an American, a student. We
    were  working  together in  a  kitchen  of  a restaurant.  Her  father is  a
    professor  in a  university. Do you  know how  proud she was?  And  how much
    respect she has frtem all, when she let us know who her father is! So, don't
    listen to  them.  I  can assure you here education and  intellect  are  more
    important than money. If you
          move here..."
          "Why don't you study, if you think an education is important here?
          the girl's mother interrupted her.
          "As for me, I don't want anything here. I want there. There is my
          home," said the young girL
          "Well, Lubochka! You are here already half a year. It's time already to
          palm down," said the old woman, sitting next to the girl.
          "I  don't  want to calm down. I want home. I  was forced  to move out."
    "You see, she had a boyfriend there," inserted her mother, demonstrating the
    absolute stupidity in the relation with her daughter.
          Anna looked  at the girl with a feeling of compassion. "You know what,"
    said a slender older man cheerfully, sitting at the other side  of the girl.
    Obviously, he wanted to change  the theme of  the conversation. He stood up,
    holding his glass of wine. "Since  we began talking about money, I suggest a
    toast.  Do  you remember the following anecdote of "Armenian radio": Someone
    asks Armenian radio "Can a wife make her husband a millionaire?" On the next
    day radio answered, " Yes, she can, but only  if he  is  a billionaire." All
    laughed. " My toast,"  continued the man,  "is the following,  let our wives
    always make us millionaires. Even if  money is  not prestigious,  it's still
    better to have more."
          Everybody laughed together and then Rudolf and Masha invited all guests
    to the table. The guests went  to  the dining  room/ where tables  were set.
    Once they got in, all  of them uttered  together, "Oh, my gosh!" In front of
    them, in  the middle of the  big, nice, set  table,  there  was a  miniature
    Potyomkinskaya Staircase.  The  staircase, the parapets,  were  covered with
    grey glaze,  which looked like granite. On  the  top landing, there  was the
    small chocolate figure,  whose  silhouette exactly  replicating Richeliett's
          Rudolf, with  excitement came to Anna and said quietly, "It was made by
    masters from our  bakery. Anna, look, there are 192  steps, ten landing  and
    flights. The scale was observed completely." Anna could not  find words. She
    sat at  the table silently/ as all  the other guests  were loudly discussing
    memories of the periods of their lives related to the staircase.
          Everybody started to eat the dinner quickly/because  theywere impatient
    to  taste the cake.  The hostess seeing that, decided to skip the break they
    usually had  before  dessert.  After finishing  the main meal,  the  hostess
    served  champagne  and started to  cut the  cake.  Once a  knife touched the
    staircase, its parts turned into biscuit-chocolate cakes. As the staircase's
    size was reduced and dessert plates  were  filled with its pieces, Anna felt
    sorrow.  She looked  at the guests, nipping off parts of  the staircase with
    their spoons and she wanted  to cry.  At  that  moment she felt  the anxious
    stare  of Rudolf. She  did  not wish to meet his gaze and inclined her head,
    pretending  she  was  placing a  napkin  on  her dress.  Suddenly, the quiet
    Rudik's voice sounded. His  intonations were discordant  with the atmosphere
    of revelry at the table. Anna raised her head  and saw Rudolf, standing with
    his champagne glass. The froth was splashing from the glass because his hand
    was shaking and he couldn't stop it.
          "My friends!" Rudolf said seriously, directing his thoughtful look into
    the distance.  "A long time ago I swore, that every birthday I would come to
    Potyomkimskaya Staircase, which was connected with the most glorious moments
    of  my youth, but my fate has commanded different. And now  looking  at this
    small copy  of  the  favorite  place of  my youth,  I  thought  that a human
    invented staircases to make it easier to transfer from one place ot another.
    A staircase is a  symbol of human's desire to move. I wish for all of us  to
    have a staircase which at all times will connect us with our roots.
          Anna  was listening to  Rudolf,  not taking her eyes off him. The  thin
    layer of a frozen teardrop inher  eyes removed the age  mutation in Rudolf's
    image and in front of her there was standing that same Rudolf, with whom she
    raced on the staircase twenty years ago.

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  • © Copyright Матрос Лариса Григорьевна (LarisaMatros@aol.com)
  • Обновлено: 28/08/2008. 17k. Статистика.
  • Рассказ: Проза
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