Chapter 2

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(If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, you may want to start there).

Well, never mind, that’s the way we are destined,
Such is our fate: now we feast, now we fight…
Don’t give up hope, hold it out, maestro,
Keep meditating and feeling inspired.

Somewhere around our last destination,
Maybe we’ll thank our fate anyway…

From “Mozart,” by Bulat Okudzhava

Nadya was flying, a glowing firebird illuminating the streets of Moscow with her gorgeous plumage. It had rained while she had been in the hotel, and moonlight now shimmered in puddles spread out before her like scattered, glittering black diamonds. It was exhilarating to be a part of this fulsome beauty, this moment of exquisite perfection. Never had Nadya felt more intoxicated than she did now, drunk on nothing but the wondrous, miraculous fact of existence.

Her feet began to hurt and she slowed to a walk. Her own glorious act of self-determination deeply moved her, almost to tears. In an instant, the veil had suddenly been torn away and she could appreciate the immense magnitude of the untapped potential within her, just waiting to burst into flower. (A lush tropical flower, not like these ghastly marigolds someone had crammed so artlessly into a planter she was passing, “Why bother?” she thought). She had been the one chosen by the prince (albeit a homely prince, but never mind), out of hundreds of hopeful princesses. She remembered with sincere pity all those women and their blatant grasping, their faces so clearly marked with such naked desperation. And what had she done? She’d tossed it all away, ground it under her heel, and disappeared into the night. The frog prince, who had searched for and miraculously found her at long last in a far distant land, was probably still standing there open-mouthed, peering into the dark night, and wondering why on earth his beloved had run off so precipitously. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply of the air made fresh by the light rain that had fallen, and felt herself being lifted off the ground.

The heel of her shoe had caught on a crack in the pavement, and as it snapped off, she lost her footing. The sensation of being airborne was immediately replaced by the sickening sensation of falling as she hurtled toward the sidewalk. She managed to break her fall with her hands, but landed hard on her hands and knees. She found herself staring into a puddle that from this uncomfortably close distance was no black diamond, but just a shallow pool of muddy water marbled with grease. The moonlight shuddered in the puddle and then became still again, backlighting her contorted face.

She picked herself up off the ground and stared down first at her scraped, throbbing hands, and then down at ther bloodied knees and ripped pantyhose. She headed toward the subway station, reviewing her night, her life, her place in the universe as she hobbled along, holding the broke heel of her shoe in one hand.

On the one hand, fate had always seemed to indulge her in all kinds of ways. She recalled Borya’s words when he tried to seduce her in the basement of the hotel. “Devushka! Fate has lavishly bestowed upon you the gifts of beauty, grace, and a sensitive soul!” he had said with a rakish grin and his meaty hand on his chest. “I want to worship you.” She was shocked and embarrassed to see him actually lower himself to one knee. “Princess, don’t deny me. Let’s go to a bar after you get off work.” And though she would bet that princesses generally did not hang out in bars, she had gone.

Of course she didn’t take Borya’s buffoonery seriously, but she knew that she was a pretty, maybe even a beautiful woman. She knew she carried herself well, and Borya had certainly spoken the truth when he had said that she had a sensitive soul. But while it may have been true that she had been given these gifts, it was also true that a petty, spiteful hand always snatched these things away from her. Every good thing in her life was or would eventually be tainted or ruined. Could she never be granted one lousy moment of sublime, unadulterated glory?

The insidious pattern had been in place from the very beginning. Take the resplendent head of golden hair that she had been born with: the stuff of fairytales. It was the pride and joy of her mother, who used to finger the strands lovingly, maybe even a little bit enviously. The color changed so gradually that it came as a shock when she was thirteen, to be corrected by her teacher as she filled out a school form listing herself as blonde. Marina Sergeevna pointed her hateful sausage finger at the line on her paper as she stalked past her desk and said, “brunetka.” This pronouncement, though delivered in a flat tone of voice, still managed to convey disapproval, scorn, and absolute, incontestable authority. Nadya ran back to her apartment that afternoon and had rushed to the mirror hung in the entryway. It was true. Her hair was a muddy brown. But Nadya refused to think of herself as a brunette, and that very day, she reclaimed her golden locks at the drugstore. Because this was the kind of woman she was and always had been: a strong woman who decided for herself who she was. But why must she be constantly thwarted at every turn?

Her figure was another good example. Even after giving birth to her daughter, she had quickly and effortlessly regained the slender physique she had always been blessed with. But what did it matter, when it was hidden by that hideous navy blue, shapeless housecoat she was required to wear as her cleaner’s uniform? She might as well wear a burlap sack. What was the point of making any effort at all, when the only ones who ever saw her were the louts on the bus and subway and her own mother and daughter? What good were her lovely, elegant hands when they were sheathed in industrial rubber gloves and forced to scrub toilets all day long?

Nadya was at the subway station now. She rode the long escalator down and waited for the next train. Mercifully, at this late hour, it was almost empty and she gratefully sank into a seat. She closed her eyes and continued to muse.

Nadya had always been proud of having what she considered a heightened aesthetic sensibility. And she was fairly sure she wasn’t the only one who was aware of this gift. Hadn’t Lena always consulted her about how to wear her hair, what clothes to wear, how to apply her makeup? She had diligently given that little mouse of a girl the best possible advice to enhance what little she had to work with, poor soul. And look! It worked! It was almost inconceivable that Lena should be married before she was, but it was in fact the case. True, her husband was a bit of an oaf, really. But Nadya knew that Lena was delighted, and she sincerely tried to be happy for her.

How Nadya envied those Mexican soap opera stars. She felt that with the smallest amount of effort, she too could be a vision of loveliness. But what was the point, when she didn’t have the money to buy the things she needed to create the enchantment? What was the point when there was no one to appreciate the magic wrought by her hand? She could be, should be living in an oasis of beauty, and not in a tiny squalid communal apartment filled with exactly the same cheap furniture and pictures cut out of magazines that were to be found across the hall, down the hall, and in the apartments above and below. Her natural gifts, her talents, her very essence were all being squandered in this tedious existence.

She suspected that if only she could have been born with a less sensitive soul, she would be so much happier. If she didn’t have the ability, no, the visceral need to experience the finer things in life, being constantly surrounded by boors, synthesized music, cheap perfume, all this would not be such a daily assault to her senses. Better not to have a glimpse of the good life at all, if fate insisted on slamming the door in your face once you’d seen all that could never be yours. It was all right for the other women with whom she worked. Homely Alla Arkadevna would be content with whatever meager crumbs fell onto her plate. She truly envied this sometimes.

Nadya got out at the station and made her way to the bus stop to begin the next leg of her journey home. She groped around in her purse to find her bus pass, and pulled out the From Russia with Love brochure she had shoved in there. She idly leafed through it as she waited for her bus, and saw that a schedule of events for the rest of the romance tour weekend had been inserted into the brochure. Tomorrow was Saturday and they had scheduled a sightseeing tour. All interested parties were to show up in the lobby of the hotel at 9 am. From there, two busses would take them around Moscow. It was exactly what you’d expect…honestly, had these people no imagination at all? Red Square was at the top of the list, of course. St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Armoury, the Patriarch’s Palace and the State Kremlin Palace, Lenin’s Tomb, a stop for lunch, and then finally – the Tretyakov Gallery at two. Those poor unsuspecting American men would be dragging themselves back to their hotel on bloody stumps after all that hoofing around town.

The bus now lumbered up to the stop and Nadya limped up the steps. She took her seat and began compiling a mental shopping list. They needed more beets, onions, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, dill, milk, cheese…She would go to the market with her mother and Olya in the morning to restock the pantry, as she always did on Saturdays. How prosaic it all was. She really must not let herself drown in this quagmire of dull routines and sleepy days.

It had been difficult today, but for one brief shining moment she had had a vision of her true self. She was a beautiful, strong (but feminine), cultured woman. She would not be cowed into submission by that sly prankster fate. She resolved to devote the morning to the necessities, but to indulge herself in the afternoon. She considered her options. Should she go to the sauna? It was always so crowded on Saturdays, and filled with fat, old, naked babushkas beating each other silly with their birch rods. No. Definitely not the sauna. Perhaps Lena might go to a movie with her. But then again, she’d probably want to drag Misha along. Never mind.

The brochure had reminded her that it had been ages since she’d been to an art museum. She tried to remember when she had been last…Was it possible that she hadn’t been since grade school when her class had gone to the Pushkin Museum on a field trip? Art was just the thing she needed. It would inspire her, lift her out of her funk. Tomorrow, she would visit the Tretyakov Gallery.

And that’s all she wrote. Not sure where I’m going with this, if anywhere at all…If you’ve gotten this far: thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

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