Who was the enemy? What past wrong was she seeking to avenge? Where was her battlefield? Not in any one place. It was in the air all around, it was in the texture of the world itself; or it was somewhere visible, it was in among the neurons, the tiny incandescent fires of the brain that flash up and burn out.
– Margaret Atwood.
It’s late, but not late enough for us to go stumbling back to our beds, tripping over the cat and stirring up the flies that are nesting in the hallway for the night. The street is silent, and only occasionally do heels strike pavement or cars rumble or stray dogs whimper in their sleep. We are silent too, other nights are converging on this night, the dark hours of Duncan’s stabbing (“I’m not a literary person,” you say, shrugging your big shoulders), the thumping of dull bayonets striking the daughters of Nicholai II (“I saw that house in Yekaterinburg,” and now you’re shaking your head as if trying to expel something).
You and I are staring into the dimmer reaches of the solar system, the so-called dark side of the moon, the tremulous pathway Satan once took on his way to Paradise. Our conversation is a ladder, reaching higher and higher. I think I’ll fall and crack my head on the earth eventually, which isn’t so bad, when you think about it, because this is my favourite part of the world: this sinewy, glimmering terrain, these slopes of Kyiv and curves of Dnipro. The slopes of me, the curves of me, but your carpenter’s fingers aren’t interested in those, as they’ve got me by one shaking shoulder.
I used to blame all my problems on being female. Ashamed of concavity, how ridiculous, you say. This confectioned concavity – all these things I do so much better when I’m with you, lacing up my espadrilles with one leg outstretched on the creaky hall chair, walking down the street for a scratch-off phone card, thinking, living, forgetting. Oh, oh, especially forgetting.
“Bad things happen to little boys too.”
Your voice is deep, bottomless. It makes me want to die, so that I can exist in a different relation to space-time and slide across the eternity that is your breath. But you are insisting that I need to live, make caviar sandwiches for my boyfriend, make babies, make art. Women to you are life itself, and I am not just any woman, I am slightly charred around the edges, in the same places you are charred, and I am your discovered Little Sister. Dying is out of the question for now, you plan to live long and prosper, and if you have to force me to keep up, you will, you say.
For a long time, you were the only man I had no fear of. Although fear radiated all around you, a shaky aura burning my retinas, because I knew that you could not stay with me forever. You would walk out of my life into your own, and I would soldier on, or get dragged on, with a Brother-shaped hole in my heart.
I’m a woman now, somehow. I sprinkle perfume on the back of my neck, I call myself a feminist (ha!), I write stories, I know what it’s like to be in love. But next to you, I am more than any of these things, I am presence itself. I am softness, sweetness, dirt, and blood. I don’t pour my own wine. You let loose a stream of Khvanchkara into my glass without looking away from my face. You are no longer the only man that I don’t fear, and it makes you happy, and wistful.
The fabric of the night will turn to glass. Bells will ring in the blue-domed church in Ostrovskii Park and morning will cross the river, lave Podil with summer gold, suck up the neon at L’va Tolstogo. Everything ends – but it all goes on somewhere, for better or for worse.
There is no time, no distance between us. We were made from the same dark materials, and poured into different forms, forms like puzzle pieces. We were set loose on the world, and the world was set loose on us.
The first time you saw me, I was holding an gun. It was unloaded, but I wanted to pretend otherwise. You were bringing me berries from the army camp. You had no idea what I would look like. I was holding a gun, but I was not afraid, not just then. You asked me, “are you always like this?” And I said, “yes,” blushing with pleasure at how powerful I must have seemed.
Later, you asked me, “why a gun?” And I said, “just in case.” And you said, “then wouldn’t a tower be preferable then? A nice comfortable one, with all the amenities.” And I said, “shoot.”
A lot has changed in my life since then, but a lot more has stayed the same.