Memo for Holiday
by Valery Petrovskiy
The end of May, the date means much for me. It could have started earlier, in March, for example: that month mutual friends were going to introduce her to me. For some reason they had believed that we would match well, and it turned out that they were right. Though, if we had met in March, nothing would have come of it, I’m afraid.
…In winter hot water was filling my bath fast, but not as fast as I desired. Impatiently I got into the water when it was a bit higher than my ankles. There I was standing then in hot water, getting warm. That winter I’d been reading much in my bathroom, not because of cold but solitude: one would drown one’s sorrows in drink, and I did it in a bath. A studio I leased was a top-floor one, and nobody bothered me while I was reading in my bathroom. The water was running and it looked as if all the problems flew away.
And the task was to ascertain a murderer: I read detective stories mostly. And all the authors’ names began with “Ch”: Chase, Chesterton, Chandler, and somebody else, all of them but Che Gevara. That year he hadn’t come into fashion yet. I found his book later on, on his travels with a friend across Latin America by a motorbike. And one wouldn’t have read it then, and they didn’t print that stuff. I mean all about his adventure on the road, overnight stays, and a half empty rucksack on his back, and desperate attempts to get some gas in a Mexican village at night.
If you get a top-floor room, nobody would stamp above your head, I was sure of that. In addition I had a roofed balcony by my studio with a plastics shelter on props. In winter a lot of pigeons used to fly there on the sunned plastics. Then they would slide down the sleek shelter. In the mornings, when the sun rose and the cover grew warm, they started their loud racing. Then pigeons made noise with their legs. They leaped off the house roof, down on the balcony shelter or touched down there with a booming stamp. These should have been well fattened pigeons; their footfalls made us wake up. Very likely, I never was as happy as when awoken by hubbub of the pigeons coming and flying. Believe it or not, we wouldn’t lure the birds, but from dozens of balconies they chose exactly ours to do their morning exercises.
Sometimes, when I awoke by myself, I would also get out for my morning exercises. Here “get out” doesn’t mean that I did it in spite of myself, no. On the contrary, I would go out to do it if only I felt fine. I foresaw a fine morning, a long day off at my disposal, and a chance to leave the house before the others. “Day off” still means off the house, I suppose.
…New Year’s was ever a problem with me: the best idea was not to get out, just to stay in by myself. I liked the idea, this way I relaxed. I never knew that so many people are dreaded by solitude. Solitary confinement was invented right for them: terrible punishment, but not with me. To stay by myself is a grand occasion – all by myself! They say, not every man can stand staying alone; on the other hand, what can be more pleasant? I never understood what one feared then if not oneself.
And I don’t like holidays. The reason is opposite: too many people walking around, going shopping, and packing in buses. And then the city is getting strange, it’s not my city any more. In my city there are a few folks, the stores are ever empty, the streets are deserted. A saleswoman serves me a can of beer not tearing herself from a register. She wouldn’t recollect me, and I will never forget her. I’m living in the city with two of us at the moment. If I look in at the shop tomorrow (I think, I’ll do), she won’t know me.
Such is my city, every day anew. Still, there is just one thing to upset me: the shop girls change in due course. They vanish from my sight, get lost in the strange city where there are too many folks. Instead, there come some new faces to behold every a year or two. The point is not to memorize them, for something confusing may occur with you like time esthesia. One doesn’t know the time if nothing changes.
It ever made me nervous to call on unknown company. Usually they have their own regulations about, some old jokes and a cast of roles made. Sure, the easiest way to feel comfy is just to keep your own way. Well, one should know his way then, and I don’t. That’s why I believe that any casual meeting or a new acquaintance is supposed to help me. The problem is that I’m diverse at any moment, just special, varying. So I never know who I am till I talk to anybody: what will one ever say.
We went by bus to the party. A New Year’s bus was something special, a whole body of joyous people happy in anticipation of the occasion. I liked all of them, the dressed up ladies and the tipsy men, while the frozen windows reminded me of the walls’ drape in the Snow Queen’s Palace.
…So, we had a short winter chronicle in the past. And behind she had peculiar shoulder-blades, like pinions of an unknown bird. I could easily tell them to the touch by her particular flourishes. She was rather like a Firebird, caught in a coop from nowhere. It never happens to cage such a bird, because it burns. More than that, she would perish in a cage, never breeding, so a Firebird is better in the wild.
I’d rather not speak of bad things; still she would allow herself something unpleasant on me, I suppose. It might be interesting, but that’ll be quite a different story, an opposite one, though concerning the same persons. And it wouldn’t make me happy.
The winter was really brief and rather hot, short-dated it flew by. It’s amusing that I can’t recollect my winter outerwear. I’m recalling my raincoat bought in autumn, and no memories of what I had been wearing in winter. Possibly it is so, because the long black slicker (Made in France) was really of high quality. She loved to walk with me when I was wearing it then. It seems strange to be recalling raincoats now: mine was black and she wore a green one. Green became her red hair. Her hair was not glaring red, just gently ginger, appropriate. It looked properly natural and worth notice but didn’t strike one’s eye. The red hair became her, and also the green raincoat. Yes, green…
…How we did part with her, is it of interest? One ever recalls the first meeting, while parting is rather distressing. Well, then I was seeing her home: a nice road led to her place, with bus stops every now and then. But we chose a different way, straightforward, a short one. A sidewalk there was narrow, and many bushes all the way along on the curb. Nobody would go this way in spite of many lamps around. It wasn’t late and the street lamps wouldn’t light up. We were back wherever from and talked nonsense. It happens to every person you know well. You had a talk yesterday and there will be another day to speak more.
And it dawned upon me then that I had said my say. Everything possible was discussed over and there was left nothing for tomorrow. Certainly, we could meet again, well, what good was it? A new day would pass away as this day, as yesterday, and as ever. And I didn’t want it to be the same for ever and a day. So, I told her then that I would leave there, that I’m leaving for a long time, nearly for good. And I was not coming back though I wasn’t aware that I didn’t love her.
When you are in love, then you know that for sure. You feel it this way or another, there is a sense of it: you feel unwell without her. And I found myself all right when by myself, relaxing.
On the contrary, I felt better when alone, whether in winter or in summer. In winter it was ever fine: just enter a comfortable apartment, kick off the shoes and come to a kitchen for hot tea with some brandy. And one is not supposed to ask anybody where a weighty bottle with golden liquid is.
Whether the hard day was over, or peace and quiet surrounded me, I felt so good at the moment that I couldn’t ask for better. All I needed was to keep a pause, to prolong the pleasure of solitude till the silence turned transparent, bare, strained, and until it would be burst by a buzz or a doorbell.