Boris Pismenny MARUSIA IN LOVE
? Copyright Boris PISMENNY
First in "Ограбление Швейцарского Банка" (NY/NJ 2000).
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Number 00-191674.
Marusia fell in love. She knew too well that the whole idea was hopeless and even stupid. Worst of all there was nobody she could confess to under the highly unusual circumstances. The point was that captain Maria Petrovna Fofanova - a senior inspector of the Moscow Office for Visas and Registrations (OVIR), fell in love with a Jewish potential emigrant - comrade Klepick A.S. She did it in a strictly unilateral way. Sporting her belts and epaulets, Fofanova locked herself in the OVIR's ladies room. She lighted up her favorite papirosa Belomor, squinting from its acrid tobacco smoke, and talked to her mirror reflection:
- Shake it off, you - the old martinet-fool! Cut it out once and forever!
And immediately, she'd burst out laughing - she couldn't be angry with herself, not really. On the contrary, she was flattered that under the official uniform her passionate woman's heart was beating hot and strong. It has to be mentioned that her Lovelace, certain Klepick Alexander Saulovitch - `Sanechka', was a guy not much to look at, twenty something, with soft snoopy shoulders, but also with the longest eye lashes and such beautiful tender skin that his face emitted an enchanting heavenly glow.
- Oh, my impossible angelic baby! - Marusia mumbled imitating her late mother Evdokia. She had suddenly fallen in this strangest habit, repeating schmaltzy old womanish sayings - absolutely inappropriate for her, the officer of Soviet Police. Yet, she was absolutely sincere doing that. Miraculously Marusia had even been temporarily turning into her mother, acquiring the same voice and same facial features. What on earth was causing the weird impersonation? Marusia didn't care to know; she had plenty of problems encumbering her busy and complicated life - that's why her weakness toward comrade Klepick had been left unchecked. The only thing Marusia was sure of was that just stealing a look at Sanechka, even a brief thought about him could do magic - it would melt an icicle deep in her soul, releasing a secret cocoon where from some hidden intimate tentacles would painfully emerge, shimmering and touching a spot where the pain was bordering the sweetness, where the one wasn't possible without the other. In all probability, Sanechka could actually be some kind of an angel sent to the Earth for probation or with another assignment, considering his out-of-this-worldly behavior. Say, being exceptionally clever and smart, he could give away his last money to tricksters - 'till the payday'. He was so hopelessly naive, never seeing his own practical interest first. He would never gossip or mock anybody as people do, not even behind the back. Sanechka would rather say nothing or, if spoken, always tried to say something nice, agreeing with a partner. Finally, a rather peculiar and strangest thing - he was writing poetry, just a bit, but never ever he had attempted to impose his verses upon his friends, not even by chance.
It happened, that both Marusia and Sanechka resided in the same Moscow neighborhood, by the metro station 'Dynamo' where a girl was killed dead by her mama, as a limerick goes. Klepick had no idea that captain Fofanova liked to watch him from behind a lace curtain, with no particular reason - just for fun. It started long ago, when Klepick didn't know what the letters - OVIR are standing for. Fofanova followed her neighbor while he was walking casually back and forth like a zombie in their courtyard, when he was scribbling something in his notebook while sitting at the garden bench right under her window. At the time, they had never met each other face-to-face. Because of a tricky circular arrangement of buildings of their project, positioned in a broken zigzag, Klepick's entrance door and Fofanova's window were facing the courtyard intended for the quiet rest of the inhabitants. Therefore, one can only imagine what a shock for captain Fofanova was to see her neighbor in the corridors of the OVIR. Having noticed him there for the first time, she got a mixed feeling. On one hand, it was a pleasure to see her inamorata in the office, but, at the same time, she couldn't help feeling bitterly sad. What's going on! Why our citizens of Jewish origin rush suddenly to emigrate? Why they are so eager to leave our motherland like they have never lived among us for centuries, like we have never got tangled with them in the same human mess, forgetting sometimes who is who, haven't chewed on the same humble bread, haven't been to the same weddings and funerals?
That day, captain Fofanova stayed later in the office after work. In the daily register she located the neighbor's entry and his docket number. In five minutes on her desk she had the entire application papers; her Sanechka was looking meekly from the 2x2 photo of the prescribed format. The application stated that Mr. Klepick is an orphan, presently living with two older sisters, spinsters both of them, and with an elderly stepfather. The whole family seeks to be reunited with certain Mrs. Kara Tun from Beer-Sheva in Israel, with a fake, of course, twice removed distant aunt without whom their existence seems virtually impossible. The OVIR's wall closets were stacked full with the blanks of similar Israeli invitations nicknamed in the office - Hi, I'm your aunty! With all that impressive read seals, tails and watermarks. According to an unwritten law, the blanks were to be used for troublemakers and dissidents who must be expelled from the USSR. Right at the spot, the undesirables could find a fictitious Israeli relative and the Russian kick in the rear. Fofanova looked through Klepick's papers, remarking the usual lies, mistakes and omissions; some corrections were needed for the final approval. Foolish my Sanechka, would you really run away from me to the foreign lands, the lands of capitalists, the shameful moneymakers? Don't you know, my poor orphan, that a capitalistic aunty is not a bargain. You're going to be sorry, my dear!
Alas, Sanechka has already made his decision when he agreed with his older sisters. In his vivid poetic imagination he had already emigrated. Looking from the window of his trolley bus rolling down the Garden Ring, he was already mourning and missing Moscow, his improbably beautiful city, the one and the only place of his entire life. He was looking like in a semi-forgotten night dream of his childhood, his heart felt broken and sad because of the unavoidable order of things - the human life is going but only one way.
Next day, Marusia watched Klepick's family as if anew. She saw them with bags and boxes, getting ready for their big move. She saw that crossing the courtyard Klepicks tried to avoid their neighbors' eyes. For Fofanova it was clear that they have already became strangers, they looked strange now and they moved strange - sneaking from the door right to the car. Fofanova admitted that she could be mistaken; she could be too subjective in her hasty conclusions. Anyhow, that weekend, Sanechka didn't appear in the courtyard, he didn't dream as usual on his bench. The premonitions were becoming real - the hopeless void has already been taking place in Fofanova's window, her dear previous life was vanishing fast as if everybody had already left to the other world. Sunday evening was especially nasty and rainy. From her bed Fovanova could see the muddy street lights and sagging electric wires on the background of the gray, dirty sky. The night was coming. No matter how she tried, Marusia couldn't get comfortable in her bed; she felt a nagging backache - irritating forgotten pains from her abortions and the painful memory of her last pregnancy, when she was left in hospital for preservation of her failing fetus; after that - miscarriage and divorce followed. She was told she can never have babies. But she certainly could have them before, more then once. Oh, how sorry she was! She could have had a nice boy now, a teenager or even adolescent, may be a guy looking very much like Sanechka. It's such a natural thing for a woman - to give birth. What can be simpler? Each and every one has a child. Many are trying not to, now and then conceiving against their will. Just think about it - women protecting themselves from the babies, from the most precious gift of life! Why not for her to share such a natural blessing? Why she, Marusia has been deprived of a legitimate sonny, a dearest little friend of the same flesh and blood?
Definitely, she couldn't sleep a wink that night. It seemed the night will never end. It seemed that there will be no future for her - just the lonesome and barren Marusia. Nobody will need her to the end of her days. To distract herself, Marusia considered the plans for tomorrow - wasn't it time to go to Krukovo cemetery, to check on the family grave, to chat as usual with her mother-n-father. According to calculations, she did it quite recently; though it wouldn't hurt coming again. Having decided that she'll certainly go, Marusia felt immediately better, and soon she was fast asleep
After several months of stagnation in the `family unification' campaign (the term 'emigration' wasn't welcome), and, correspondingly, after several months of standstill in the activity of the OVIR, new marching orders were coming down from above. Hundreds of exit visas were opened for Moscow to fill. As usual, the officers were required to quickly furnish the paper works in all categories of population within the allowable limits. The OVIR has its strict production plan the same as any Soviet factory or, say, garbage removal brigades. The waiting foyer which was empty for the long time, now became crowded again. The human conveyor started to move ahead; the lucky holders of the numbered approved notification, were shouldering each other in lines; the most impatient, self-appointed activists were ink marking people's hands; those - standing behind were pushing those - in front; the common hullabaloo was growing with the clatter and noise. Then, the OVIR chief, colonel Zotov himself came down the stairs; angry, he grabbed a megaphone from the guardsman, Vassily, and barked out: - Stop the kindergarten! Enough! I'm closing the joint, nobody is going nowhere! For a minute of two there was a total silence. No one dared even to cough. - Is it canceled for real? Somebody asked in a scared voice. In response - the general booing. - How come, NOBODY, NOWHERE?
One of the busiest days in the OVIR when the emigration was on the rise, Marusia became anxious - Gosh! She has almost forgotten to put Klepick's name on the list of files she ordered for her personal inspection. What's up in his case? It occurred, that like many others, Klepick's file was all stapled, stamped and ready for issuing an exit visa. To prevent the tragic mistake, Marusia decided to help - she prepared not one but two notifications for Klepicks, for the different weekdays. The first was for the sisters on the visa approval day, and the second one - personally for Sanechka. For him, in the explanatory paragraph she included the standard refusal clause: - No reasons for the exit visa approval.
August came, when in their courtyard the trees were already turning golden and red, and the window view was especially beautiful. Her dear Sanechka stayed securely in place. With his poetic absent-minded look, he was wandering as usual back and forth, rustling the foliage, and then - seating on the bench, scribbling in his loose-leaf notebook. Blue pages he dropped around were mixing with the yellow maple leaves. Marusia knew that his family had already departed, and only her Sanechka stayed 'on preservation', safe and sound. Preserved by her passionate prayers he stayed put in his loving motherland, in his native courtyard. Once, in the twilight, Marusia like a scout ventured to the empty courtyard and picked up some of the discarded notebook's pages. Quickly back home, she straightened the paper, she thought it was a letter to the relatives, but the majority of the pages were covered with mere doodles. Only one or two had some readable words on them: - "Venom and Venice/ Dodgers and lies/ Where Donnas - there're bones, daggers and knives."
Reading, Marusia felt truly proud that Sanechka hasn't lost his inspiration, that he is living his life in full and composes his lyrical poems just like our beloved poet Pushkin. Venice-Shmenice... Okay, let him write about the places abroad, she reflected. What you can do if the wretched capitalist propaganda had confused the minds of our innocent people. On the whole, she approved Sanechka's composition as pretty ingenious except for the cold weaponry mentioned in the very last line.
It must be noted, that captain Fofanova had been given her epaulets not for her pretty eyes. Moreover, the OVIR's chief had already predicted her coming certain promotion. - Not far is the day, my dear, when I, colonel Zotov, will get the rank of the general I deserve, and you, Marusia, would you please taking my chair for yourself.- A girl from a rural provincial village of Krukovo, Marusia has come a long way. In the Superior School of Police she excelled in all subjects, even in the firing practice - she was one of the best qualified shooter from the personal Makarov's pistol. Many men, taller than her, distinguished and cocky gents, were directly subordinated to captain Fofanova. They have always respected her with no reservations. The women co-workers also loved her strong character, her ability to talk tough and act tough. In principle, she could even drink harder than men, and could be the joyous life of a drinking party when in mood. In spite of her numerous responsibilities and the daily stress, Marusia and her girlfriends in arms, Verka and Lerka, managed getting together once in a while. They used to horse around pretty hard, within the reasonable limits of course. Why not - they are the hot-blooded women, aren't they! Take for instance this last summer weekend when Marusia came up with a great idea: - Attention girls, listen my orders! Clean your necks with the gasoline, put on your best prosthetic legs, and, let's march down to the dancing hall!
On the hot summer day, in the local KGB club, they danced like crazy. They picked up their partners - three handsome lieutenants, and brought them home. Being senior in rank, they ordered them: - Relax, boys, at ease, feel at home! There was a lot of food in the house, a lot of vodka and wines. The ladies had locked the doors. Pointing to medical scales, Marusia announced the rule: - We'll weight you 'before' and 'after'. Who will not lose his pounds will be punished with no mercy!
- Shall we take off our underpants? - Some guy inquired in an uncertain voice. In a moment, everybody got stark undressed. The pants, bras, suspenders were flying up to the ceiling. Exposed were nipples, pubic hairs, blue veins, bruises, whatnot... One poor guy happened to have a carbuncle, rape red as a Christmas bulb.
The evening was hot and humid; it was so easy to lose control. The representatives of the stronger sex were too hungry for the highly caloric food, and, as a result, they got relaxed a bit too much. The cavaliers became so weak and useless, they failed so miserably that ladies dropped the idea of weighting them, ordering instead to get lost ASAP. The lieutenants were meekly protesting whining, but Lerka and Verka had shouldered them out of the door and kicked down the stairs outside, adding a couple of spicy suggestions for the road. Having cleared the premises, the ladies laid down on the floor all naked as they were. The floor seemed the coolest place to stay on. The girls chatted a little, cried a little and eventually got a nap for three hundred minutes till the daybreak. Then, they got dressed, embraced each other warmly, and parted each her own way. Left alone, Marusia lowered the window curtains and jumped back under the blankets to compensate for the sleepless night.
Alcohol made the floor giving way underneath; the bed was freely floating in space, falling down and immediately rising up to the awful heights beyond the clouds where Maruisa could hardly breathe. She was in her attractive cotton frock with the wide wavy sleeves; her skirt was flying like a bell flapping around, tickling her bare legs. Sometimes so painfully, that Maruisa was groaning in her sleep. And then, Sanechka on his fast wings had entered from just nowhere into her most painful spot, started fidgeting there, becoming terribly ticklish and causing a sudden flood. All straps in her body got broken loose, and her veins begun throbbing with the hot blood, stronger and stronger, while like a wide winged bird Marusia was soaring and dancing and getting giddy. All this until a sudden halt, when everything stopped.
Their local superintendent, comrade Sharapov, appeared, waving one ruble bill right in her eyes, yelling something vague to Marusia: - Bir-manat, shurum-burum... Shame on you! - He reprimanded Marusia: - Why you cannot understand our Tartar language? `Tartar', what the point? The moment she wanted to answer, something started striking heavily in her head - boom, boom, boom... All the doors were flapping back and forth. Her former husband, crazy Arkady was running to her. Colt revolver in his hand, he jerked the blanket from the bed where there was her tender Sanechka curled in. - Boom - bara-boom! Arkady shoots and kills, but no... In the very last instant Marusia manages to cover Sanechka with her own body. She saves him. She feels the pain and pleasure at the same time.
Next morning, Marusia wakes up unusually refreshed and happy. Crooning a Red Army tune, she runs to the bathroom, and sees herself in the mirror. Oh, what a delight, what a beautiful girl she is! If only Sanechka could see her now, he would fall in love with her no doubts. She looked in the window - he wasn't around yet. Of course not, it was too early; there was nobody in the courtyard at the time. She looked at the table - there was a mess like after the historic Tartar massacre - the fallen goblets, hot dogs, drumsticks and bottles... Marusia gulped a shot of vodka with a snack of chocolate bonbons, and jumped back into the bed. She wished to indulge herself more. She started recalling all the important men she has met in her life. Once again she imagined some pointless dreams about Sanechka. Oh, for God sake, how to reach him! She just wanted to touch him, put his head on her laps - nothing more! She dreamed like that with her eyes open. She remembered her late little daddy, Petr Nilovich. He was the man who had really loved her and adored. All his talks were eventually coming to his darling daughter. Petr Nilovich served in KGB as a shift driver of a black van christened by people either Voronok (black raven) or Marusia. Could it be why she got the name in the first place? Each time, before leaving for job transporting the convicts, her daddy always pronounced the word Dochka (Daughter)) as a mnemonic tool not to forget his lovely baby and the items of the primary importance starting in Russian from the consecutive letters - Den'gi, Ochki... (Money, Glasses, Watch and Keys, Automatic pistol). He was putting in his empty pistol holder a sandwich with garlic sausage and a pickle; he kissed Maruisa on both cheeks, giving her a military salute. What a beautiful time it was!
She even remembered her former, good-for-nothing hubby Arkady who used to be quite a humorist. In Krukovo he was teaching her how to fish the `asshole style'. He lowered his pants sitting in water with the bread crust bait stacked in his rear. He waited for fish to get interested in the bait in order to quickly jerk the pants up with the catch safely inside. So good it was in the countryside! In the warm lilac twilight cows were returning home from the fields. They were lazily waving their tails running the mosquitoes away; they were leaving the steamy drops behind as they walked. Closer to night, a quick summer rain would beat down the road dust. In the dark, somewhere by the river, village girls were singing, with a harmonica sobbing and sighing, with the sweet flowery nectar floating in the air.
The same evening, on her way back from the job, Marusia visited the stadium Dynamo. The bleak unreliable Moscow sun has already disappeared; the skies were quickly becoming gray and cold with a pregnant black cloud howering above the Leningrad Prospect. Nevertheless, in a corner between the stadium fence and the bleachers, some old-timers, soccer fans were swarming as always. Summer or winter - didn't matter for them. There's a game today or not - nobody cared. Even though the old stadium was practically out of use, the crowd of the die-hard fanatics was always around. Permanently drunk, they were kicking each other, mumbling and laughing with no reason at all. Long ago, Marusia was told that people saw Arkady in there, that he looked terrible, worse then anyone in the gang. Any bitterly cold day one could find the desperate people - bums and junkies dawdling on the same dirty spot. The weirdest people forgetting their own names, but still excited pronouncing names of the bygone soccer stars - the goalie Yashin, the forwards Bashashkin or Starostin... They were nicknaming each other - Grey, Thief, Bowlegged.., they went crazy recalling over and over some unbelievable penalty kick called 'against the rules' when the ball hit the post bouncing right back - what had happened a thousand years ago. From a yellow barrel on wheels, they were selling draft beer, and the immortal geezer Nikodim Nikodimych, the bum of all bums, was there, avidly watching peoples' Adam apples moving back and forth while people were drinking. He was nagging them: - Hey, man, leave me some foam! Don't you forget about me, buddy please?
Marusia spotted Arkady right away. Against her worst expectations he was surely in a tearful state, but, at the same time, his hollow cheeks were shaven clean, he was dressed in a clean shirt faded of washing. In fact, his extremely clean bluish look was the scariest reminding some terminal hospital patients. Well, and he had certain unmistakable smell about him, too. - Mashka, what a surprise, what a joy! Have some beer, will yeah? They stepped aside for a talk. Whatever she asked him, the same answer was given: - I'm fine. Surviving little by little, everything fine...
- But, look at yourself, your miserable loafers, your pants all with the holes and fringes...
- Worn out? Would you believe I've just bought the pants? My balls must be made of cast iron, breaking practically through everything. I'll stitch, Mash, I'll darn it, swear to God!
- Need some money, Arkady?
- Fuck your dough; fuck your bloody silver... How much you've got? Anyway, what's up, Mash? You're still bossing, transporting your kikes to the paradise?
- Watch your language, Arkady! What do you have against them?
- I wouldn't care. The other day, the 'Bowlegged' had explained. He said that if the Jews run away it's no good, the bad sign actually. They smell something. It means Kaput! Our well-being is going down the drain.
- What do you mean, Arkasha, what well-being? You, formerly an important scientist, a PhD, where's your life you're talking about? You're drinking yourself to the lower depths. No use blaming your assistant, comrade Zalmanson, in your troubles. 'They' are not all schemers; they're not all the same. Fofanova and Arkady had some more discussions along similar lines until they said goodbyes and parted, when the heavy rain had already started.
My Sanechka is different, Fofanova was thinking on her way home. My Sanechka would never in his life cheat on his friends or write the anonymous letters. In the year and a half period during which Klepick was getting from the OVIR one refusal after another, he hadn't responded with a single complaint. But he could, having more reasons than many other refusniks. Fofanova knew many complaints of this sort. What the unbelievable nasty specimens she had seen! Some mischievous people would skillfully assemble all accusations in one letter; playing innocence they'd praise our law and government while smearing the rank and file staff - doing anything to swindle a favorable decision. I could be wrong, she thought self-critically. Why single out 'them', the citizens of Jewish origin - why blame the whole community. I need to concentrate more on my Sanechka, especially now when a recent dИtente could result in the avalanche of new visas. Who else can protect this utterly naОve creature!
Actually, Captain Fofanova wasn't Klepick's caseworker; she had more important fish to fry. But she decided to go extra mile inviting Sanechka to her office for next Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. He arrived exactly on time, knocked delicately on the door, entered the room and waited timidly under Felix Dzherzhinsky portrait.
- Good manners! - noted Marusia. - No way my Sanechka will seat or speak without permission. For some time Fofanova pretended being terribly busy, with an important air marking something in her office papers. - Mr. Klepick, I believe? - She started at last. - You, Alexander Saulovich, I presume, wouldn't mind if I have some words with you?
Marusia was the kindness itself; tender smile on her lips she was enveloping the guest with the warm motherly look, thinking:
- Relax; I won't hurt you, my sweetheart.
In response, Klepick tacitly nodded. Then, blinking and licking his dry mouth, he said: - You know if I may... the application I have submitted, goes practically nowhere. Would you please if I can say so, you look to me such a nice person... I'm terribly sorry.
- Don't be, it's OK. Every woman welcomes a compliment. Let's see... what exactly is the reason for the refusal?
- None, - Klepick said.
- Wait, here it is...- Marusia leafed through the file. - It says that your request is 'unreasonable', you see. Every decision, my dear, has an exact explanation. Tell me, for example, how would you directly state the reason for your departure?
- Well, 'the family unification' what's-they-call-it...
- Ha-ha... your family has divided itself on their own, isn't it? You see, Alexander, my dear, Saulovitch. And what about them, got settled?
- Prog... sisters are working, but father isn't well at all.
- Programmers - that's good. By the way, you personally, Mr. Klepick, do you know the computer programming? No? You see, you've answered your own question. As to the sickness, nobody needs it,not in the foreign lands. I feel deeply for your father, trust me. -
Fofanova tried to look official. As if forgetting about the visitor she at times pretended studying the documents, frowning and emitting indefinite words and interjections. While doing this she revisited her impossible dream - to touch the youngster, to put his head to her laps, to caress him tenderly... He's so close, just stretching her arm she could have done it. Alas! Her omnipotence over him stopped short of such an innocent gesture. So, Fofanova went on for some time - playing cat-n-mouse, amusing herself until she decided to call it a day. Abruptly, she stood up, shut the file and hinted comrade Klepick that she will probably solicit the management on his behalf. Meanwhile she recommended him to refresh his request submitting a new Israeli invitation: - Your old one had already expired, my dear. You have to understand our strict regulations and rules. It was a standard way in OVIR to keep the applicants busy and desperate in search for the forms not easy to obtain. After the visit, Fofanova as usual had Klepicks file transferred to the most distant corner of the archive intended exclusively for the refusals.
In September, for her spotless service Fofanova was awarded with a vacation of sorts, all expenses being paid. She was considering a nice foreign trip and decided to visit Venice that Sanechka mentioned in his poem. It wasn't hard to pick up a suitable international symposium - on hydrology science this time. An official assignment was issued in her name as a hydrology expert to go with a group, exclusively men - a very nice arrangement indeed. The weather was great. The boggy, grass-green water of canals stunk sewerage, not better then Moscow Yausa River, but who really cared - in the company with jovial hard-drinking guys no symposium was a problem.
Members of the Soviet delegation played hooky with the plenary sessions whenever possible. Slipping out of the congress hall they crossed the famous piazza San-Marco covered with guano of the hundreds grey-winged pigeons. The birds flattered noisily from under their racy feet. The hydrologists were rushing across the humpbacked bridges into the maze of the narrow commercial streets. That's where the action was and excitement and laughter and the show of vagrant street acrobats with their huge colorful rag dolls. Punch and Judy were flying up in the air, flapping their arms until falling back to the canvas. It was amusing to see the respectable experts zigzagging from one store window to another, behaving like the proverbial kids in the candy store, salivating but having almost zilch of the hard currency to spend. One store window had a Russian ad painted across in white - Everything for Soviet Sailors! The prices were right - cheap, cash-n-carry almost for nothing. Fofanova had selected for Sanechka a pleat booklet with the glossy views of Venice, then - a tie with a gondola picture and a matching key holder. She had no idea how she will present it to Sanetchka. Never mind, it was a pleasure buying things for her love. Sanechka was on her mind day and night. She'd recognize him in the mosaic angels, in the baroque bronze figurines, in the fresco on the painted walls of the cathedrals - everywhere!
One night, in her hotel room Marusia woke up in horror - could it be that while she's dilly-dallying here in the Venetian paradise, her poor Sanechka is expelled to exile by the stupid overzealous clerks? Desperate she bit her lips and cursed herself very hard. Since then she couldn't wait for he bloody symposium to end. Even already at the plane she could think of nothing but her abandoned Sanechka. She felt getting closer and closer to him. Coming back home is always like being attracted by a powerful magnet. In the end, she had been completely exhausted with her impatience. When she was waiting for a taxi in Moscow airport, she had astonished herself with a reckless idea: - If my darling is staying put, waiting virtuously and calmly, then I'm letting him go! She couldn't believe herself planning this course of actions - she comes to the office tomorrow and the first thing in the morning in her own hand she opens the exit visa for Citizen Klepick A.S. Yes! Leave the person alone! Marusia exclaimed. Freedom to Alexander Klepick! Let him see the wonderful Venice with his own eyes! The instant she takes this decision, the blissful tenderness is flooding her heart. She becomes unspeakably happy; her liberated soul is singing of pure joy. That's what it means - the sacrifice in the name of love. It pays back manifold.
The taxi was rushing down the Leningrad prospect. Crimson in the nippy morning sun buildings were greeting Fofanova back. At the left there're Khrushchev era pre-fabricated towers - where a co-worker lives, a mother of four, at the right - the place she had visited many times, drinking and fooling around a lot. And there's a special memorable balcony, an intimate place with no comments necessary. The radio in taxi was playing full blast a famous Soviet march, or, perhaps, that was Marusia's heart singing of coming home. She lowered the car window to catch the wind on her face - it felt so nice! Soon she asked the driver to pull over in a cool shady by-street, some twenty steps from her house. She snapped the travel bag on her shoulder and went out, shivering and palpating her ears still numb-n-deaf from the flight. She just stepped on the sunlit asphalt in the crowd of early birds Muscovites hurrying to job, when all of a sudden it popped up! The sound went alive in her ears. No, not this way, first, still in silence - right in front her somebody was launched up from the crowd. A man went up like a startled bird from the bush or like a Venetian rug doll Punch. He hanged for a second in the air, throwing apart his arm and legs, and only then Marusia heard the gritting car brakes and a short shock followed by the buzz of tires and broken glass. Yelling - Sanechka! Marusia pushed asunder the pedestrians and rushed to the victim. He was lying by a lamppost in the puddle of his own blood mixed with the car oil. Marusia dragged the man aside and put him in a safer place on the grassy lawn. He was a well known handyman-plumber Philemon from their housing project, a jack of all trades.
Next day Klepick had discovered to his amazement a postcard from OVIR. It got stuck to the wall of his usually empty mailbox. Having received the visa, he left Russia with the first flight he had managed to book, no doubt after sweating out a longest line - the very last Soviet line in his life.
Fifteen years passed. Scenery has changed. There was no the USSR anymore and no big deal in getting an exit visa; the problem was to get an entry permission to a country of choice. Supervision over the emigration has lost its usual impetus. In the name OVIR the accent was not upon 'V' but rather - 'R', since its function was mostly the registration. Previously hermetic Soviet bag of republics got broken along the seams letting the opportunistic cats out of bag. They were rushing to fat and prosperous countries, wherever they could make living the best. At home, the under-employed OVIR officers had started Pinkerton style businesses, profiting in private spying, in body guarding for wheelers and dealers. Fofanova first joined some of them but soon changed her mind. Frankly, she didn't care much about the political changes. Russia has changed, she's changed, too. Fifteen years is a huge chunk of a woman's life. People were scattered around, many had died. She buried her poor Arkady. Verka emigrated. Just recently her best friend Lerka Venesianova was murdered in cold blood, right at her own doorsteps. Security gadgets and monitors didn't stop the crime. Lerka was begging for help but nobody in the building dared to open the door; her blood was dripping down the stairs all night long.
About the same time Fofanova's own health suddenly failed. A tumor had been found in her feminine department - a cruel surprise - a thing you expect happens to others, not you. After the surgery, Marusia had been enduring pain for weeks. She could hardly move - the wound was, as they say, not for you to see, not to show to others. Bedridden Marusia tried to cope with her new condition, watching TV through a hand held mirror. Having nothing else to do she watched indifferently all programs in the row just to forget herself. Once in a soap opera she noticed a character reminding her Sanechka, somebody looking and behaving exactly like him. It was strange - she believed that the silly romance had been erased for good. And all of a sudden the memories were right back. Miraculously, her health was coming back as well.
Discharged from hospital, Fofanova had decided to take the early retirement and pension which, even considering her higher rank (Lieutenant-Colonel now), was quite a meager sum especially if routinely counted in the US dollars. Now, Marusia stayed for months in Krukovo ferociously digging dirt, thinking that, perhaps, the age makes her attracted to the mother-earth - our stronghold under any regimes. In fact, Marusia was happy to discover her green finger talents; she planted a lot of carnations, irises, hyacinths and plants of herbal folk medicine. In her dark basement she had assembled the dark bottles with decoctions and tinctures based on vodka. She became a passionate sorceress testing her miracle drinks every hour on the hour, in small doses, of course, exclusively for the health purposes. Another obsession was baking. She learned to make cabbage pies - kulebiakas, mushroom pirogues, various healing mixtures of kashas.
But, who's going to eat all this cooking? As a result she hated to see in the mirror her doubled chin and fatty formations here and there. Her arms, for example, usually girlishly slim, were now shaking heavily like full bodied breams on a line. In summer it wasn't that bad, Marusia could stay in shape by swimming and working in the garden, but in winter, at times she couldn't recognize herself - an elderly peasant in her big felt boots and babushka wrapping her reddish face. She reminded herself someone... Yes, the piggy-faced premier Nikita Khrushchev! Also in winter the scary lonely nights happened especially when they cut electricity off, and no lights, no TV was available. Then, her hearing was becoming painfully sharp irritated by anything - by the rustling paper she just had thrown away, by the floor beams squeaking, by mice scratching... In such endless nights, Marusia liked to search aimlessly through her antique chest of drawers uncovering some old energy bills, receipts, letters and other garbage. Most of all she liked to look at her old photos showing her in the military uniform - brave and shapely in the tight belts. Look, how she was, look what wonders the beautiful uniform does! With her glasses on, she admired the old pictures. What a gem I used to be, the humankind had certainly failed to appreciate me! Once she came across two portraits held together by a rubber band - one was covered with cellophane, another - in a fancy frame with the kissing pigeons at the corners.
The citizen Klepick Alexander Saulovitch, long departed abroad and seemingly forgotten, was looking from the standard format photos taken for the OVIR application. Well, well, Sanechka, my former angel-savior! Marusia recalled vividly the joy and obsession of her twilight days. The truth is she never remembered him because she has never had him really forgotten. Not only because of the sentimental reasons. As a dentist can forget the name of a patient but never his teeth, she has her police officer's mind frame. In spite of herself Fofanova kept in her professional memory many faces and personal data - junk mostly she wouldn't need anymore. But Sanechka was totally something else! Marusia put the framed picture on the TV set, and looked at it once and again while shuffling through the stuff scattered over the blanket. What made her obsessed with him in the first place? Well - he's a handsome fellow, a cutie, so what? Was it enough for falling in love? Ha! - I'd kill him dead just with my heavy boobs if I have played mommy with him!
Anyway, as by a miracle, she spent this night in the marvelous dreams. What a strange phenomenon it was? Again she was full of energy when jumping out of bed like a youngster with her breath she thawed a patch in the frozen window. She was happy admiring the clear sunny morning outside and came up with an ingenious though quite a whimsical crazy idea - to find out what has happened to her Sanechka? Why not, everything possible is nowadays!
With the early spring days Marusia went to the USA. Being a Pinkerton pro, she has prepared carefully for the trip - acquired the detailed info on her subject residing now in the state of New Jersey. She has decided not to complicate things with the warning calls and arrangements - simply to appear at his steps just for saying hello.
Lo and behold, one Saturday morning she is walking on the green Wildwood Road in the suburban zone of Trenton. She is happy with the world and herself, worrying not a bit about anything. With a simple canvas bag on her shoulder she feels ageless and fearless, herself again - eternally young Marusia on the eternally young earth. So, she finds the house she needed and sees people on the terrace. It looks like a big happy family there - women in summer frocks, pretty children, clunking tableware, exited voices, in Russian of course. Somebody picks the guitar strings; somebody cackles with the crazy laughter... That laughter has stopped her in her tracks. Marusia sort of fainted immediately and wouldn't move. Well, she thought, they have got it. Sanechka has his happiness with all those people around - his sisters, wife, kids... Marusia has suddenly felt that she's completely exhausted; the transcontinental travel wasn't easy. And she changed her mind; somehow she didn't want to make the haphazardly appearance anymore. The whole venture looked to her plain stupid - what the idea to disturb people she hardly knows! Ashamed, she was ready to retreat, but somebody touched her elbow asking in a tipsy voice: - Madam, coming or going, w-w-ell-come, Madam, you are to Broinchmans?
- No, no, I'm just passing by, say hello for me to Klepicks...
- Here you go again. - The stranger continued. - The Russians always have the letters mistaken. This is #179E. East that is. You need probably #179W - West on the same Wildwood Road but in the opposite direction. Woman, listen to me, you have to cross the stony bridge towards Van Brunt Park, listen here...
Marusia turned back. What the heck; she has to go to the bus terminal anyway. So, she passed the station and went on and on, just in principle. She covered about a mile until she reached the symmetrical residence at #179W. From the street she stepped into a gravel passage snaking alongside the shrubs to a white-sided pavilion, not big but a pretty smart structure. The moment she had approached the house, a water fountain sprinkled up to the sky. Like an umbrella, producing a rainbow, the fountain was dropping down onto the azalea bush from which Fofanova could hear somebody's loud shrieks, in English and Russian, with all the indispensable F- and S-words. A fat balding man as the mythological Laocoon was fighting with the garden hose which wouldn't stay still, shaking, jerking until its end flew far away into another bush starting a new grandiose fountain show.
A little boy waddling on his fatty legs was running toward Marusia. He yelled - Hi! Nana! - begging to be picked up. Marusia's hands were busy with a bouquet and a chocolate box; still, she managed to catch the boy and hold him tight. The little angel was wooing and booing when a gentleman approached them, apologized for his wet appearance and invited Fofanova to take a seat. All attempts to take the boy away have failed; smiling from ear to ear he saddled Marusia for good. Now, they were sitting at the patio chairs just looking at each other. At last Sanechka (Marusia has recognized him) pronounced in a solemn voice:
- I don't even know how to thank you, madam. You see, Denny likes you right away. He doesn't want to let you go. Touch wood, - he said knocking a tree nearby. - And I need you so bad for today, at least for a couple of hours. I suppose to work overtime today if you please...- Sneezing, as always, he got confused, flushed and hurriedly added:
- Sorry, I cannot pay much but... You have a green card or a just visiting? The house isn't as small as it looks, it's rather spacey. Choose any place to stay, whatever you like.
Over the fence a mustached old man with garden scissors in his hands, was watching them with the great attention. - That's our neighbor, - Sanechka whispered. - The Greek, Tom or Tim, I'm not sure, you can call him "Yiassu". He likes it.
- Yiassu! - The Greek yelled immediately, glad to be noticed. - Good babysitter, good woman!
- Yiassu, yiassu...- Sanechka responded in the conciliatory voice, while continuing his talk with the guest, whispering: - See, he has already laid his eye on you, what a nosy guy! Okay, you know, I have to run now. We'll discuss everything when I'm back.
And he drove away in his rambling Ford Escort.
It looks I got a problem here, Fofanova thought, being sort of intrigued with the turn of events. Dennis tired after playing around fell asleep in her arms. Touched and heartened Fofanova observed his angelic curly eye lashes trembling in his sleep - the same memorable Sanechka's eyes. She smelled the milky aroma of baby's skin and listened to his peaceful breathing. The father came back in the dark. He started apologizing for the delay, but she cut him short. - You, my dear, have to fix the muffler or have it replaced; your car will stop rambling. And, the main thing, how could you be so confident - leaving your baby with me, with a total stranger? (She still expected him to deny the latter.) - Well, you're right, of course, but I trust our local paper completely. They know how to advertise, they screen candidates and... I'm sorry, I'm afraid I didn't tell you... my name is Al.
- I know, - Fofanova carefully reminded him. - At last, - she hoped, - he'll figure it out. - We used to know each other from Moscow, don't you remember?
- Oh, could it be the same Tatiana! - Sanechka exploded reciting the famous Pushkin's line and, quickly confused, started to wipe his high dioptric glasses with the end of his necktie.
- No, I'm not Tatiana. Not without sadness retorted Marusia. And she said point blank - My name's Marusia Fofanova. What do you say now?
- Ah, Maria! Well, it's even better. `Mary' as we call it here. Glad to meet you, Mary! Do you speak Anglyisky a little? And what do you prefer pork-cashew or mandarin chicken?
Hastily talking he brought from the car the packages with the spicy smelling Chinese food; he went on and on, asking questions.
- In the backyard or at home; tea or soda?
As it followed from his stories Sanechka was a nearly accomplished CPA. He was quick to explain that his company is very good, but they pay him so far just peanuts. That he has no arguments with Victoria, his former wife, since, in her words, she fell in love with a co-owner of their computer company long before they decided to move to Sacramento together; that he wishes Victoria all the best and that he must be some kind of a looser not capable of having things done, not even fixing the water hose in the garden. At night Fofanova was in bed in her room next to the baby's. Through the balcony door covered with the anti-mosquito net she could see distant planes blinking. Marusia would wink - next group of the lighting-bags is in the sky; wink again - more planes sit at the same spot. How many of them? Soon it won't be enough space in the crowded heaven. The ground below seemed silent first, but if you listen carefully it also was swarming and rumbling in the dark. Marusia stepped out to the parapet. At the distance, downhill, in front of her there was the other worldly universe strangely booming and shimmering. Rather moonlike, she thought. Where, the hell, I am now? She guessed that it was NJ Route 295 which she took today on the Greyhound bus. Was it just today? Feels like ages ago, and now... now, Marusia had concluded that absent-minded Sanechka didn't recognize her. Was it good or bad? People change. She'd never have recognized him in a crowd, too. Nevertheless, the astonishing fact is that they're sleeping together under the same roof. Both Sanechkas - the senior and junior fell down on her laps, just like that! And her name now is Mary.
Little Dennis was lively mumbling in Russian with an accent of a professor of Slavic Studies. He wouldn't leave Maria for a minute alone, meddling around while she was busy taking care of the garden, fixing the hose and the car. She has already known the shortest way to the gas station - by the bank, post office and synagogue towards the local commercial plaza. She knew the best Korean shops for getting vegetable and fish; she also knew places to avoid. The Greek, Yiassu, the muscular devil, was as if especially by the fence, whenever Maria was venturing outside or was bathing in the sun. Her suntan was excellent, much better then in Krukovo. Due to special lotions she looked like a delicious fancy bun on her hammock chair while Dennis was playing in sand nearby. The more golden she became the brighter shined her eyes, her hairdo being fashioned a la BB, the French style.
Once, when ignoring the drier, she was hanging laundry on the line, Yiassu tip-topped from behind trying to embrace her, sort of kidding. The same kidding way Maria applied her Judo skills (she didn't forget), and the neighbor has found himself in the nearest azalea bush to his total surprise. She helped him up on his feet and reminded that `in his age' he mustn't be too exited on the humid day like today. Excessive attention of the neighbor-womanizer was quite a worrisome issue for Sanechka who, as Maria could definitely tell, has decided `to protect' her from the competitor. She was curious to see how it will work out. Now she was finding plenty of pretexts to appear in the backyard lightly dressed, in a cotton frock with a shoulder strap off. She enjoyed Sanechka's metamorphose developing in front of her eyes. She felt without looking the awakening of his dormant virility. He'd stare avidly at the curvatures of her body revealed by `the malfunctioned dress'; being angry with Yiassu, he'd be sweating and panting. Say, Maria was offering the Greek a cup of freshly prepared cranberry drink when the vigilant landlord Sanechka would appear suddenly from nowhere asking exclusively in Russian: - Mary, I'm so terribly thirsty, be so kind, give me your heavenly nectar. - And, turning his back to the neighbor, he continued, talking non-stop, initiating some lengthy and tricky discourses: - Do you know, by chance, what our poet asked the moment before he died? Our Pushkin asked for the sour moroshka - a sort of cranberry.
As every woman Maria listened not so much to the clever talking but rather she dreamily resigned herself to the testosterone charged voice overtones. She noted her partner's hand resting on her waist; she also followed eagerly to his pressing-caressing when he led her into the house, when he started embracing her... That's time, she thought, the summer is almost over. When Sanechka was already panting heavily in her ear, even sobbing at times he suddenly exclaimed: - Oh! It seems I have known you at last! Perhaps, clever Sanechka wished to express the biblical meaning of `knowing a woman', but Maria was quick to agree with him in her own way:
- Yes, my dear, - she whispered, - you remember now - it was me who gave you America as my generous gift. I'm your former boss, Fofanova M.P. - Sanechka was agreeable to the idea instantly, especially in the moment of truth, in the moment of unity of their souls. - O, yeah, you're my boss all right! Fofanova! - `For fun' - For joy you're given to me, my dear Mary! That's what smart Sanechka has guessed, and soon he was done completely, breathing easier now till he finally fell asleep.
By autumn, Sanechka released from the annoying domestic chores, with a baseball cap on his balding head, was making rounds in the backyard as usual, composing poems and dropping the written papers. Maria watched him from afar, from a second floor window. Two poems were personally dedicated to her - To Mary, My Muse. Judging by the rare difficult words used in the composition one could tell that the poems were exceptionally smart and talented, not for anybody to understand. That's how it went now, day after day. The life was quiet and peaceful in Klepick's house. The cloudless life, as it happens, entails its negative side - vague sadness and even boredom. Feeling sad with no apparent reason Maria wondered sometimes - how unfair it is that the prosperity of America is unknown to her native village. How come? In Krukovo the woods are taller and the rivers are deeper. Why Krukovo peasants are deprived of the decent life? Languishing this way Maria couldn't help singing the sorrowful Russian songs when they were sitting together with Sanechka at the porch at night. They were tasting her vodka based medicinal potions and shouting loudly songs the Russian way towards the Route 295 - all flooded with the white and red traffic flows.
On weekends they used to entertain some, not numerous friends and neighbors. The guests were praising Maria's cooking, even more - Maria herself who looked now an all-American sun-tanned lady about same age as Mr. Klepick. `Mary-Very-Good' - the mischievous neighbor Yiassy called her, still having high hopes on winning her favors someday. Usually were coming Sanechka's co-workers - shy and reserved Koreans Mr. and Mrs. Park, the large family of Broinchmans, as well as inseparable Western Ukrainians - mother and son, both red-faced like after sauna. One felt hot just looking at them. As soon as the abundant meals and much of the medicated Maria's vodka were consumed, the Ukrainians liked to repeat stories of their coming to the USA, with the scary lie detector tests and screenings. Then, they'd initiate the fiery Carpathian songs which Sanechka was quickly converting in not less violent Havanagilah making the floor squeak and creak under the tramping feet. Everyone liked the piece no matter how you will call it. Who cares as far as you welcome to kick and stump and yell to your heart content! United in the impetuous choir joined were the Broinchmans and Parks and Yiassu and even the little kids always present at the table.
How can you leave the kids behind in suburbia? Parents have no choice but to drag them to the parties. There's a problem with kids in suburbia. In no way a kid can be left to oneself like in Russia. In the middle class America nobody expects from them to find friends on their own! That's grown-ups duty, as Maria had already figured out - setting play dates, monitoring and directing and cajoling... Denny was taken to Jake, then - to Martin, who, in their turn, were invited to Klepicks for reciprocation with Maria always nearby on alert. Once, when the boys became really bored, she suggested the hide-n-seek game. Not a bad idea it looks but she couldn't in her life to think of any suitable English rhyme - only the highly indecent Russian or Tartar limericks were coming to Maria's mind. She called Sanechka's office for help, but his versions weren't acceptable, too. And here, little Denny came out with such a magnificent text that Jake Broinchman went berserk yelling, insisting that it was his song, that he's the number one always, he learned it first in a Jewish pre-school group at the local Beth Shalom temple. Jake's father was a successful litigation lawyer, so Maria gave him his Popsicle prize to calm him down while she was calling the synagogue.
Thank God - next week little Denny joined the preschool group. Maria was taking him there, still sleepy, reluctant to go, especially in the dark winter mornings when nobody wanted to leave the bed. Invigorated Maria established the military regime with calisthenic gymnastics and with cool showers. Cheerfully she shouted her orders; she hasn't experienced this kind of excitement for the long time. In all fairness, you can't do much of the real life in suburbia, can you? Who wont be sick-n-tired of shopping, of the endless hours in front of TV or computer screens, of munching the junk food and worrying about your weight? The suburban paradise can become too predictable and boring. Especially after sunset when everybody grows torpid until falling asleep as domesticated animals in their sheds. And never mind the exceptions - there's no sparkling night life in these places. Well, sometimes Klepicks went to Big Apple or Philadelphia, paid visits to their neighbors or dined out. They have done it not very often and with no particular excitement on their part. One winter Friday, just passing by, they tried Beth Shalom - the place of Denny's kindergarten. They did it once or twice, happen to like it, and started to come every time. Everything looked to them holiday-like, full of festivity there - the friendly congregation of neighbors, some they've seen but never spoken to before. It was quite a treat to see them all dressed up, not like some disheveled suburban sport buffs. There was something else attracting Mary and Al to the place. Hard to pinpoint it exactly - perhaps the anxious anticipation memorable from Moscow as before rising a theatrical curtain, or the assuring familiarity of faces, or the candles and gleaming eyes and all those Jewish singsongs strangely reminding the officially approved Soviet hits written as matter of fact by the same Jewish composers. There, in the temple, we better leave our heroes alone with their friends. Let it be a typical Friday evening, Al and Dennis - in the yarmulkes, Mary - under a laced head cover; they are reciting the prayers and singing in unison with the congregation the ritual hymns. It is impossible not to single out from the chorus of voices - a deep chesty voice of Marusia - Hiney, hiney, hiney... , then - a high clear tenor of Sanechka - Mi-ha, mo-ha, ba-elim Adonai... , and, of course, the highest broken falsetto of Denny - Mi-ha mo-ha, ne-dar-ba-kadesh! Little Denny merits to be especially mentioned. Pride and love of Marusia, he is already reading with the equal ease all by himself, both in Russian and Hebrew, practically without the dictionary.
2005 (by author from his Russian original)
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