Аннотация: Through an azure steppe, as a pearly chain
A story (опубликрован:Anthology of PEN (poets,essayists,novelists), Potomac, MD 2010)
Through an azure steppe, as a pearly chain
A story A taxi stopped by one of the multistoried buildings of the residential communities in Brooklyn. Nelly and her husband, Senya, were waiting for Nelly"s cousin, Martha, in the atrium. Enthusiastic greetings, kisses, and unanswered questions ran through their minds while they were on their way to Nelly"s apartment, located on the second floor. Once Nelly"s door was opened, they could see an awaiting, festive, table for a large group of guests, from the threshold.
"I invited all of our nearby relatives, but I don"t know if they are all going to show up!" Nelly took a look at the table, and then on Martha and pronounced with happy face. "Martha, I am so excited that you could make it! I did not expect seeing you some time. When we left, we did not get a chance to say, "Good-bye" on the phone. You were always Soviet- proud, and against immigration," Nelly smiled ironically. "I am overwhelmed with joy to see you, my dear! You look great and so beautiful. May be you will share your secrets? It looks like the years were kind to you." Nelly smiled. After hugging her cousin, she saw the time, "The crowd is about to arrive."
Senya offered a glass with liquor to Martha, and proposed to sit down on the cozy leather armchair by the window. Instead, Nelly and Martha decided to relocate to the kitchen. After achieving some privacy, Martha said playfully, ironic: "Nelly, I am eager to hear about your life in capitalism."
"O, my dear, I felt so hopeless in the beginning. I was overwhelmed with depression, and was struck with many disappointments," Nelly reflected seriously, missing Martha"s irony. "I was turned down by every job that I applied for the first year. And when I was about to hit rock-bottom, Alina came into my life. I am so thankful to her.!"
"Alina?" Something sparked Martha"s memory. She nostalgically remembered Michael, a former ward of hers youth."Could it be Michael"s wife?"
"Yes, yes! Your former "student" Michael"s wife! We keep in touch with them here. She was my savior. Alina made the transition go more smoothly. In fact, they should be here soon! They are embraced with prosperity and great example of how to achieve success. Alina in the beginning worked day and night, at a hospital. Her efforts earned her respect. She helped me get a job there! She really represented me, and I am so grateful for her referral."
"Excuse me, but if I am not mistaken, you and Alina were not so close in Odessa."
"That is what is amazing!" Nelly flushed. "In Immigration even close relatives some time forget their roots. Thank God for Michael and Alina! They go out of their way to help. They give, without expecting anything in return. But..," Nelly interrupted herself, "we can talk about this later. Now, I think you need some time to freshen yourself up after such a long trip!"
"Of course." Martha kissed her cousin"s cheek, grabbed her travelling bag, and went to the bathroom. She was excited with a feeling of anticipation to see the guests, especially Michael. Ever since Michael and Alina left the USSR, Martha was filled with a conscience-stricken. The feeling of guilt drowned her whenever she thought of the couple.
Martha was close to finish her appearance. After applying the last touch of mascara, she revealed a good look in the mirror. The reflection showed flashbacks of her youth and brought back old memories.
No application to any university was made upon completion of high school. She did not known where be become formed. Her plans of her future were indeterminate.
During one of late autumn"s day, Martha"s relative asked her to tutor their son, Michael, with Russian Literature for a few months. The distant family just moved from Moldova; the new language was hard for the boy. The eleven-year-old had the reputation of an out-of-control child, who preferred yard games versus focusing on studying and reading books.
Twice a week, Martha rode the bus to Michael"s family"s flat on Pirogovskaya Street, to teach him Russian. After very little time, Martha found out that the "out-of-controlled student", in fact, was an emotionally sensitive child. This awakening happened when she told him a sentimental story. She was surprised by the boy"s unexpected reaction. Martha began to utilize Michael"s specificity in their lessons.
One day boy was upset because the overcast weather did not permit him to play soccer in the yard. Michael was not able to focus on his studies. After a while of failed attempts to get his attention, Martha found the key she needed to connect with the boy.
She called him to the window, and proposed to play a riddle, looking at the clouds covering the sky, "Michael, what do you see?"-she asked. While he was dazed with the image from the sky, Martha read the verse of her favorite poet"s, Lermontov"s, Clouds. She narrated with a sincere voice. When Marta was finished, she told the boy about the poet"s fate, his melancholy, and loneliness at the time when he wrote the poem. "Can I hear it again?" Michael asked, and then he suddenly burst into tears.
Since then Michael could not stop reading literature, especially poetry. He even began writing his own verses.
Michael was drafted to the Army after he graduated from high school, but he continued writing. Some of his work even was published in a small newspapers. When he was released from the Army, he made a decision to go to a teachers" training institute to fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher of literature. Michael reconnected with Martha and shared his dreams with her and his plans of writing plays, in which his future students would act at the school"s theater. Michael dreamed that the main characters in his play could be the famous writers and poets. Fate would not permit Michael"s dreams to come true. He was only able to find a job at a night school. Tired (day time) working students had no energy for literature and theatric activity.
Soon he got married and had to deal with a lot responsibilities of having children. In effect, even before Martha had moved to Moscow, their meetings were taking place rarely.
Martha was in Odessa that summer. One of her relatives told her that Michael had already had received his documents to leave the Soviet Union. Because of her patriotic Soviet beliefs, Martha was ideologically against emigration. She did not want to see Michael. A farewell dinner with the whole family was held for Michael to celebrate his departure. Martha did not go.
One day, prior to Michael"s departure, Martha was surprised to see that she was on the same bus as Alina, Michael"s wife. They made eye contact, but neither of the women approached each other. Odessa is a famous tourist city, with one of the best beaches on the Black Sea. Summer time for an Odessa native is stressful. The bus was so packed with people that brought Martha and Alina so close together that their noses were barely touching.
Alina"s embarrassment was easy to read in her face. She felt distraught while she was looking through the window at Odessa"s street with anguish. Her sorrowful look reflected her inner fear. As a firm believer of her anti emigration views, Martha cruelly demonstrated how comfortable and successful her life is in their native country; she felt no need to depart to a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty...
...Reality set in. After second Marta will see them there, across the ocean... Her body was drowned with guilt, shame, and nervous body trembles
"Martha! Everybody is here already!" Nelly cheered, while knocking on the bathroom door.
/ "I am sorry, just one moment," Martha tried to laugh in attempt to cover up her anxiety.
After checking herself in the mirror one last time, she opened the door of the washroom, soon to be surrounded by loving relatives. With a happy smile on his face, Michael approached to her with open arms. He seemed taller, handsome in his nice and sharp black suit. Martha noticed a very elegant woman that just appeared. She was wearing a beautiful evening dress, high-heeled stylish shoes, modern hairstyle, perfectly applied make-up, and chick jewelry. She was the perfect symbol of festivity and glamour. It was very difficult to recognize Michael"s wife Alina, because Marta"s last memory was of the embarrassed and anxious woman on the bus in Odessa on the eve of their departure. In spite of past years, Alina was glowing with more youth and energy.
"I am so glad to see you!" Alina exclaimed lovingly; then kissed Martha on the cheek.
"Let"s sit down at the table! We should have a drink for the guest from our Motherland!" Nelly animatedly invited everyone to the table.
"I would like to have a drink for my remarkable tutor," Michael said joyful, accompanying Martha to the table.
""Guest" is one topic and "Motherland" is another," Nelly"s niece, young and blonde Sveta, began laughing loudly. ""Motherland" is where you are either well or extremely well!
"What are you talking about?" replied a severely grey-haired and thin man, sitting opposite of Sveta. ""Motherland" is where the graves of your ancestors are... And, in general, you should know, my friends, that this topic requires seriousness and excluded lightness..."
"Quiet! Quiet!" Senya, in Russian tradition, uncorked the Stolichnaya vodka bottle with a knife. "I suggest a toast just for Martha. It is such a joy that we get to see her again. Could anyone here even imagine that this could happen before we immigrated? It is unbelievable." He raised his glass to Martha, "Welcome to America!"
"What "Welcome"?" Nelly interrupted her husband, "She leaves tomorrow. I suggest we say a toast for her quick return to America, and to visit for a longer time!"
"Forever! Forever!" friendly voices were heard from different sides of the table. Tears filled Martha"s eyes. For the first time she realized, as she was looking around the room- that their former big, great, remarkable family is spread out all over the world; and some family members did not even know about each others" lives. In the past, family holidays had seventy people only among Odessa relatives. Martha caught a glance from the oldest family member, Aunt Polina.In the past she was recognized as a most beautiful woman in the family. In the family holidays, she always should came with her two children. Her husband was killed in the beginning of the War. All of the relatives felt sympathized for her, so during family holidays she received much loved attention.
Memories piled into Martha"s mind about family holidays during the very financially poor time after the World War II. They were poor in terms of lacking sufficient meals, but rich with love, jokes, laughter and celebration with each other.
"When did this all happen? Why? After outliving the war, evacuation, losses of close ones, the return back to the native city of Odessa to be together, helping each other to get stronger and stay firmly on the ground... And for what? To get spread all over the world?" These somber thoughts unexpectedly rushed into her mind in spite of the celebration around her. In the past she had left Odessa for Moscow. She lost connections with many relatives, and did not even say to them good bye at their departure.
Michael looked at her, as if he caught her mood, and said loudly and firmly, "Martha, why don"t you stay longer, even if not, just by one day? If you agree, I will change your ticket, right now, without getting up from the table."
"We will prepare such a great shish kebab!" Alina inserted, being connected to the common attention of the guest.
"Yes, yes, I would really hope you will stay!" Sveta added enthusiastically. "You cannot imagine what a fantastic picnic they organize in their beautiful backyard".
"Oh, my dearest, thank you very much," Martha said warmly. "But unfortunately, I am on a business trip, and need to return to my remarkable job. Usually, I am so busy with work, that I don't even have time to catch my breath!" Marta smiled. "This is why I cannot..."
"Martha," Michael interrupted, "if you don"t mind, let"s go out to the balcony for a few minutes; just for a short smoke." With those words, he raised from the chair, taking Marta for her elbow.
They went outside. The party noise remained behind the glass door that they shut. Brooklyn"s energy become weaker with the late hours.
Michael suggested the hidden part of the balcony, which was not visible through the glass door. Clearly, he wished to be alone with Martha."You probably wouldn"t think about this, Martha," Michael started in a sincere voice, while lighting a cigarette, "I have been grateful to have had you in my life. Some time ago, you helped me discover a spiritual side of life, and this is become like cresset for me". Michael inhaled and after a small pause, continued:"You should know, I was sincerely upset when you missed the farewell dinner. You were the main person I was looking to seeing. I hurt so much..." Martha was silent. "But..." Michael continued, " I understand, that you could not cross the line then... I understand... well, all right, I am done remembering the past. But, it looks as, you have not changed a bit about that, until now. Before, nothing was capable of making you come here. But what now?"
At this time, a thin man, who discussed the concept of "Motherland" before, appeared behind the glass door.
"Who is he? What he is doing?" asked Martha, happy to change the subject.
"You really don"t remember him? Ah, yes, in fact you did not
communicate with this part of the family often. He is Uncle Arkadiy - husband of Aunt Clara! I feel sorry for him. He is a former attorney, educated, sharp-minded, social person, and now what? He was followed his son. If he arrived fifteen to twenty years ago... Now he is about sixty, without English... This is why he lives in the past. For a simple man, emigration is easier; it is possible to live a normal life with any kind of job. Not for this intelligent, high- professional... You know, I can say following- those, who arrive at his age, remind me of situations like an overcrowded bus in an Odessa summer... when a crowd pushes a some passengers outside on the wrong stop... In fact, Uncle Arkadiy was even more pro-Soviet than you. He was bitter when we departed. And he sent to us letters during the first years of Perestroika- I am happy, that I have lived till these times..."
Martha got close to the rail of the balcony, while Michael followed her. "But are you happy? Writing verses?" she asked after a short pause, glancing in to his eyes, trying to read more out of them than what he was saying.
"It was necessary to survive in the beginning. It was no time for poetry, when there is too much prose..." he stopped, dreamily smiled, and put a hand on her shoulder. Then pronounced quietly, "You know, sometimes I close my eyes and see our Pirogovskaya street, all over in lilac flowers, pass to the beach..."
Michael pressed his face against her ear and began to whisper:
"Heavenly clouds, eternal wanderers!
Through an azure steppe, as a pearly chain
You race, as I do myself; exiles,
From North"s embrace going southbound;
Who drives you?- Maybe fate"s decision...?"
His hand that was holding her shoulders, squeezed tighter. It was as if he was afraid that Martha would go away, without letting him finish the poem, the words that came out of her mouth when he was just an eleven-year- old boy, looking out the window at the overcast sky.But
now tears filled both of them eyes.
Автор выражает благодарность Екатерине и Андрею Ильиным за помощь в редактировании перевода.