I, in spite of being alone at home, put my favorite attire giving assurance: jeans and a military untucked shirt. Gave hair a smooth with wet hand.
I approached several times the blinking monitor, and quickly retreated on the spurious pretext of drinking some tea (tenth cup) and washing dishes.
God Almighty! There is nothing more exhilarating than adrenaline trap! When there is no turning back and going forward is terrifying to the point of blackout. Moreover, when you set the trap yourself and get there as a wild animal.
You frown at the escapades you get into but continue to follow up.
And even if there is no hazard to life and health risk, there is tremendous fear to be rejected, fear of rudeness in response to fineness, fear to be ridiculed and proved to be weak, which is the heavy burden of men, and blood boils in the veins. And sends the knees buckle.
I had to decide until I got intercostal neuralgia.
I plopped down in front of my computer, straighten my back, opened Lit’s page and typed in the beginning of a letter, weighing each word:
– Hi. May I ask a serious question, which could, in case of positive answer, turn into an offer?
Half a minute passes. “Lit is typing a message…”:
– Hi! Go ahead.
There is no time to spare. Now, to succeed you should apply onslaught, originality and surprise:
– Tell me, what’s your attitude to friendly sex?
Silence held in the space, which was more telltale than drumroll.
“Lit is typing a message…” Pause. “Lit is typing a message…” One long pause more.
Seconds lingered eternally, body felt as if scalded and cheeks tingled. The hands, on the contrary, felt cold. Fingers were nervously locked.
If it is so syncopally heart pounding without witnesses and eye-to-eye contact, since there are 720 kilometers of wires between us, what does it feel like to offer this in reality? It sends shivers down the spine to imagine it.
The more so in case of Lit.
Oh, Lit! How many fantasies you inspired in impassioned youths!
Lit was kissed by demon. She is a beauty, composed of incompatible and controversial elements.
Alchemy: mixture of heterogeneous components unexpectedly gave birth to philosophers’ stone.
Broad cheekbones should mar up a girl but to Lit they added sensuality.
Her figure is what the village people tenderly call “goose”: broad in the beam, modest breast, rather short legs and on the whole dainty and alluring. No artificial visual appeal of a model can be compared with this vivid and well-knit female.
Some elements are incontestable: ripe lips, moist smile and pink upper gum.
And the hair. Oh, that magnificent hair!
Its color is between chestnut and blond. It is tied into heavy braid that reaches the buttocks. Sometimes she lets it down and loose, winds her head round and the silken, fleecy cascade soughs over the shoulders, the back and the belt of blue jeans, entwining like hacked fat-rope.
Once I got together with the folks at the Bangalore Square in Minsk to wag our tongues for a while and have a beer or two. Lit also came: charming, laughing, in red rain slicker against autumn precipitation already in full blast.
The slicker had a hood, which caught water from the downpour. And the braid got wet and darkened.
If she slips the hood over the head, water will run down the shirt. I, as a gentle knight, rush to save not so much the honor as physical comfort of the fair lady: “Wait! Don’t move!”
I go behind her back, take the braid out and in several seconds shake water out of the hood. Restore the braid in its place.
– “Thank you!” – she says to me, and we go on wagging tongues.
Nobody gave it much attention, whereas I had delicious languor stealing over me. How charming, how gentle it is to lift the heavy braid, weigh it in your hand, and look at the tender neck, sweet ears with golden earrings.
Gallantly protect the girl against discomfort from cold water.
Somebody asked something, but I gave an incoherent answer. Because I stand and grow numb. Lit laughs and jokes.
I call to mind a dramatic and mannered description from Russian classics: “laughter like jangle of a thousand of small silver bells”. These thousand bells would probably be an exaggeration, but the laughter is nice: vivid, ingenuous, girlish and amiable.
… “Lit is typing a message…”
– To be frank, it comes like a thunder and I cannot find an answer. Are you going to Minsk again?
– Yeap. Next week.
We had harmonized our plans: she works from dawn to dusk and has a long sleep on weekend. Then again, it’s still wintertime, the month of January, there is a lot of snow and it is bitterly cold; you cannot have a good walk or hang out and it gets dark early.
Still we definitely decided to meet.
At the end of conversation, when I vexedly began to think that my wording, where the plume was equated with the bayonet, as Mayakovski, the poet, used to say, was basely ignored, she ended the message in the following way:
– As for your proposal, I will decide when we meet.
“Lit was online one minute ago…”
I sang and danced, celebrated and praised to the skies.
Buckling at the knees was substituted by reinforced concrete, Antaeus had grounded again. Blood does not boil in the veins any more.
Wretched nervous perspiration disappeared from the forehead.
I think you understand what does it mean, don’t you?
She could answer anything.
To begin with, I did not even count upon “yes”: it would be too fantastic and naïve to believe in such miracles. And, though Lit, as a true Sagittarius, is given to honest and direct statements, she is a girl after all, and it won’t do to promise at once a ticket to Never-Never or Lotusland to a coxcomb from Moscow even if he is charming.
She could just laugh at me and I would have miserably gone to dine with Duke Humphrey.
She could respond to such bold tapping with equally bold razzberry.
However, she answered the way she did.
“I will decide when we meet” – that’s victory! That means that in principle this option, when we, folks from the same musical coterie, would be intimate as man and woman, is considered by her as highly probable.
“You’re not my cup of tea”, “Sorry, we’re just friends”, “Oh, no, I’m not that sort!” and million other platitudes could be said.
And instead of that: “I will decide when we meet”. That’s triumph!
Then, I am into her. And her special goodwill to me was not a mistake. And I am really her cup of tea.
Whatever happens, even if nothing will come out of it – I don’t care. The battle is not yet won, it is premature to nail the shield to the gates of Constantinople as a famous Russian prince, but the operation was accomplished with lightning rapidity.
Thus, I may relax.
The days before departure to Minsk slipped away as a light rustle of angelic wings, I woke up and went to sleep with beatific smile. Instead of walking, I was flittering above the peccant earth waste like a dragonfly.
One may storm cities, fire rockets into space, furrow fields on a harvester, mine coal in stakhanovite quantities in three shifts. Win Wimbledon, chess tournament or even president election campaign, but anyway, nothing rises a man in esteem like a woman who made her choice in his favor.
Minsk greeted me with increased frosts. It was freezing and snowy.
Onу evening Lit managed to find time for a social at a friends’ home. She was nice and genial as usual but tired after work and prettily drifted off on my shoulder, falling silent.
I sniffed the scent of her hair and mellowed suffering from goose bumps.
On top of that, she was unwonted and intriguing: I saw her in a gown for the first time; it was black in compliance with the working dress code. Legs were stockinged. Her previous garments consisted of scruffy jeans and cut-off; she used to chaff, put out her tongue or show devil’s horns. Now she was a genuine lady.
To get home to the micro district Uruchye, where she shared a flat with another girl, one had to cross the entire city.
But I was not just a coxcomb from Moscow, but a rich coxcomb at the time, and could afford a taxi for a girl.
The taxi was the last of the Mohicans: a heavy yellow Volga.
For some reason I remember that trip in minutest details. The heavy steering wheel scratches in the driver’s hand and the broad, slippery, leather back seats screech and make you slide down.
The smell of the frosty snow. Black-violet fathomless sky and snowbanks illuminated by lighted signboards.
Cozy green light of the car stereo playing unchallenging low-key music.
The night city swims by behind the window and we are together. We are mostly silent during the way and we feel good at that.
I tremulously put my palm under hers, as if by chance, and she fondly lets me clasp it.
No word was said about my offer.
Wangle an invitation out of her wasn’t going to work out: the other girl is in. And then again, it would be unethical to deprive the girl of sleep, when she badly needs it after all occurrences.
Yes, I want her like a maniac. I’m ready to sale my soul to the devil for her.
But a stronger feeling is nestled in me: unutterably tender, fragile, almost fraternal. It impels me to care for her, protect her and enswathe her, and shelter her from penetrating hibernal winds.
We agree to meet in a day, when she does not work late and will be in a more sociable condition.
The taxi is waiting for me and we stay on the porch.
She turns to me and offers a soft glance of her grey eyes from within the fur fringe of her parka; the frost, also admirer of beauty, sends roses on her cheeks; there is not a cloud in the sky and quiet, frosty Uruchye is like a winter fairytale.
A friendly farewell kiss on the cheek creeps to the lips with a barely heard breathing.
And after several seconds of paradise, fine girlish fragrance, crazily sunk heart, which seems to pound so that it is heard at a meter’s distance, the door phone buzzes and she disappears in semidarkness crackling with her parka.
– See you!
– See you.
My voice beaks with excitement. My face flames and not from biting cold.
I seem to be reeling and sweating when I go back to the taxi, stuttering and emitting exhaust fume.
The car turns in the narrow yard. We pass the house once again and I see the light cozily switch on in the kitchen of her flat on the second floor.
The day of our next meeting started famously.
We hung out in one company, then another.
After that, we dropped in somebody other’s place, where there was a funny movie on TV with grotesque Negroes playing in Nazi uniform.
In the next place, the guy’s girlfriend worked in a pet shop and had a real zoo at home.
– So, your python lives in the ceiling cabinet? – we joked.
However, the zoo-girl frowned. Lit had put a chemisette with a fairly low neckline in spite of wintertime and men’s eyes were generously wandering there.
Folks complained about cold and said it was a pity that our mutual friend Alex was with us and not at his work.
The point was that he worked at the boiler station, which heated the district. And during his shifts, it was always felt: the radiators were hot because he worked properly.
When his relief entered operation, as it was the case on that day, he let things slide and one had to go about the house wrapped in woollies. Because the radiators were lukewarm.
Folks were going home. Lit called Alex and me to her place: the other girl spent the night elsewhere and the flat was at our disposal.
People were at the exit, putting on their footwear and making farewells (the cleavage was at last covered with a scarf and that defused the situation), when Alex’s father called and asked him to arrive home for family reasons.
The unbelievable had smoothly worked itself out: Lit and I were going to her place magically relieved from any witnesses.
The flat was small but clean. When the girls are neat, you clearly see it even at a rented accommodation.
Lit dropped in the bathroom to change clothes. Black underwear she held in hands for replacement additionally set me on fire.
Soon after that, we were having tea with locum. Now her look is the one I got more accustomed to: scruffy jeans and tee shirt.
She sits with her knees on the stool. Throws back her thick hair, which is drying out by the minute, and turns from chestnut to blondish.
We were such engaged for a short time, however. The butthead in the boiler station, Alex’s colleague, probably decided to blow it off and roll a joint.
The radiators began to cool down and the view of the yard disappeared behind the frost flowers on the window.
We first slipped on sweaters and then heavy coats.
I put my arms around her and we sat like two sparrows at the chimney, talking and warming each other.
Then we moved to the room and finally under blankets of the same bed without taking off clothes.
The idea to make passes to Lit then, seemed preposterous to me. There was something extremely vulgar in the sole idea to try to undress this beautiful, wished-for, divine girl in that bloody cold, the girl so close and so far out.
We were lying under the blankets embracing one another without moving to keep so valuable warmth. And just as I will remember the taxi trip, I will retain in my memory that magic night: the tick of the clock and monotonous buzz of the refrigerator. As well as crunch of snow outdoors under the feet of a rare passer-by. Running of lights of equally rare cars across the ceiling.
And the voice. Her low, musical, girlish voice.
And the fragrance. Some sweet perfume mixed with the scent of healthy, young skin.
And the hair. Certainly, that divine hair. That splendid, chestnut, almost blond thatch.
She fell asleep. Or feigned to sleep, but probably really popped off. She slaved away in earnest at the time with those two jobs, in contrast to that bugger in the boiler station, blast him, son of a bitch.
While she was sleeping, I was gazing at her sweet face, broad but so sensual cheekbones. And slightly tremulant eyelashes.
And simply whiffed her. Inhaled and could not have enough of it.
Inhaled the flavor of her hair. And of her neck. Kissed her on the cheek.
Of all boiling passion towards her only tenderness remained that night. Majestic, genuine, untainted, sweet and loving tenderness, viable only among the elect out of the elect of mortals. And that solely in particular moments of life.
I did not get a wink of sleep for the entire night.
Time went by and someone, angel or demon, was whispering in my ear the truth that landed on my heart in painful awareness: all is flowing away. And would never happen again.
I am a cripple unable to stop time. And the clock hands count off hours and then minutes.
And then the alarm went off and Lit opened her eyes. The night came to an end, to my horror.
We had tea and talked of this and that. Then I saw her to the subway station.
We agreed to call each other in the evening. I gave her a farewell kiss on the cheek. The lips smiled wishing good-by and were left unkissed this time.
I could not reach her in the evening. Closer to nighttime she phoned herself, said she was tired and suddenly fell asleep.
I understood everything. Refused to believe it, but understood.
A stiff, clumsy crest seemed to bulge out from the heart and, no matter how you moved the left arm, something seized the heart and sucked painfully.
– What you’re doing? – I asked Sergei, at whose place I stayed, when he finished his work.
– Nothing in particular, – was the answer.
We went to the nearest bar, where the barman did not yet go south at that moment and made good cocktails.
I set up. Sergei was happy about that and concatenated Long-Islands but they did not go to my head, first and only time in life.
I desperately asked to add more vodka in the mixture but with no avail.
On the next day I woke up alone, Sergey had long ago gone to work.
My hand reached to the phone. I wanted to call Lit to… to do what? Why should I call her?
I did not know why. Just to hear her. Just to see her. Just to scent her, oh, Jesus.
However, I did not call. The phone fell out of my hands, and I, in my solitude of a Moscow coxcomb in a Byelorussian weekday, wailed and bellowed, as if my heart was going to break.
I did not see Lit after that.
Though contacted online more than once.
When I came to Minsk I tried to track her down, but she had a new job and often went on mission, so it was harder to find her.
Then I became a rare guest in Minsk myself.
We lost each other for about five years.
Alex had long ago quit the boiling station, as well as his schlepp-workmate, who was in jail under a foul Article: petty theft or rape of big cattle; and the former told us of mutual acquaintances.
Lit had built a career, I probably forgot to mention that she was a high-category software programmer. Not only anemic pointy-heads are IT specialists.
Married a colleague and moved to Australia.
Judging by her photos with the husband and daughter on the Sydney beaches or on the porch of her own house next to red rocks, she was all right.
I sometimes pine for her. For her or for something ineffably poignant, painful and genuine she introduced me to. And something wakes up in me, when I drag across the snows the tantalizing load of unspent tenderness.
She is now at the other end of the Earth and it is the same as in the other world.
When we have winter, and I shiver from cold leaned against the radiator and revive the feelings of that night, she has summer. The Pacific surging breakers run riot. She and her family go for a picnic to Tasmania.
When we have summer, she also has summer.
They always have summer down there in Australia, they say. And the weather is always warm. And there are no radiators. In contrast to here at home.