A Blue Embankment. Joanna's Page 4
The Blue Embankment. Joanna's Page 4
She didn't remember how the war had began; in her memory there were left only a dug yard and a deep ditch where one had to go down a staircase; maybe, it was an entrance to a bomb shelter. Older kids played their own games there; they took Yana with them only once because she had her father's pocket flashlight. Of course, boys took away the flashlight at once and ran away somewhere, and Yana was left alone in the underground.
The water was squelching under her feet. Her sandals completely got wet and sank in disgustingly champing clay. Shivering with cold and fear she was pondering, wasn't it better to begin to cry? But suddenly she could see an underground tree. It grew right in the earthen wall. Its thick trunk, which was thicker than an arm, and its bare trees were clearly seen. Some of them were stuck out of the wall lifelessly hanging down the water, other were chopped off like round white seals. It was a tree without leaves... the higher it was, the thicker its trunk was. The tree grew head first!
Little Yana was stunned: how can one grow head first? Intelligent Joanna didn't care about a birch root; she was waiting for her father. It was he who should go down to her and take her out to God's light - she well remembered it. Maybe, she managed to discern him at last.
There he appeared in the hole of the entrance, peered into the darkness; the staircase was creaking under his feet... The damned darkness! Little Yana purposely stepped back and hid herself but couldn't help giggling.
"Joan, is it you? Well, I'll teach you!
"Joan" - he insisted to naming her so in honor of his favorite Maid of Orleans. But her mom couldn't tolerate foreign words, and in her birth certificate they wrote a Russian version - a seldom name "Joanna".
How many people there were! End everybody was hastening and running to somewhere... with suitcases, bags, trunks, shopping trolleys. A platform and carriages were seen. These were those carriages from her childhood with steps, with window glasses, shutting with a grinding sound. People travelled by them on their tops, hung on their steps, waived from their windows. Yana was still at her father's hands as if he carried her out of the hole of the bomb shelter to the platform, from which they left for an evacuation zone. Her memory united these moments in one but maybe several days or a week separated them from each other.
Father was in his military uniform already. Today he was seeing them off, tomorrow he would go to the war front, and in several days a "killed in battle" notice would come to their empty flat. It would show up white in the post box, being sent by mistake to the Snezhins instead of the Sinegins, and then one envelope inside another would catch them up in a small Ural settlement. "Forgive me but my husband is not Sinegin Arkady Ivanovich but Snezhin Arkady Ionovich. I brought documents to the post office, and they asked to apologize to you," was written in the letter. "They asked to apologize"...
Mom was still counting the suitcases. She was dressed in a grey gabardine dust coat and a hat with small brims. And it was in July's heat. Maybe, they didn't get into the suitcase. Now Yana could clearly see her face redden and roundish in a childish manner with locks in permanent wave on her forehead and droplets of sweat on her upper lip.
Mum was 27 and father was 26.
"Why have you taken so many things with you? Oh, these women! The war will come to an end in two month but you... Why have you taken so much soap; is it for to bathing an elephant"?
The soap ended in a year and a half. Mom divided every peace in four parts, grated it and poured it up with water. Several pieces will be exchanged for sugar.
They were chatting about some trifles. About boots, receipts and keys... Mom was even laughing. Many years later Yana's stepfather when they visited somebody would offer lemonade to her because after one or two small glasses of alcohol she would begins to cry and tell one of guests about the great inimitable love of the Jewish girl Sonya and the Russian boy Arkady. And how grandma and grandpa who were also killed during the war locked you at the second floor and you, a Komsomol member and a sportsman, went down from the balcony being barefoot, and father drove you away by his motorcycle as a barefooted and dowerless girl.
"He is in Australia," you would say, "He was taken captive, and now works at a closed laboratory. He simply isn't released yet because he is so talented"!
A usual railway station's bustle was all around, and no tears were seen. Everybody really believed that the war wasn't for long. Would she really be able to discern her father?
Yana felt bored and began to whimper. Father seated her down the suitcase and said good-bye to mother. Yana was bored and didn't look at them.
"I have got something..."
Next to her a girl with her panama was sitting. Yana at once understood that she really had got something unusual - such an appearance a girl had. At that moment girl's something turned out to be a tortoise transformed little Yana into one continuous "Give!" having nothing to do with her father and evacuation.
"Oh, how pretty it is! Let me hold it... May I stroke it? Oh, it's moving! Mommy, it a tortoise! It's alive! Daddy, it's a tortoise! I want it! Please buy it!
Yana who was deafened by her own howl and blinded by her tears was seized and dragged into the carriage. Persuasions of her mother, her angry clip on the back of her head, parting kisses of her father, reasons of people around "You will be taken by a militiaman" - all of that was nothing in comparison with a desired live box on feet, without which her further life was senseless. And nobody wanted to help her. Nobody cared about her inconsolable sorrow.
What flowers those were! I wouldn't see them again ever end anywhere. Of course, there would be something similar, approximate and reminding but there would never be no such blue ones and in such plenty. The railway embankment was blue. It seemed you could stretch out your hand and touch them which were wet from rain, warm from the sun, fresh from the wind blowing from some fields.
Yana knew if a field was endless it was called steppe, if a pool was endless it was called sea.
The train hsd stopped for a long time already but everyone was afraid that it was about to set out, and therefore nobody went out of the chock-full and stuffy carriages to pick blue flowers. Mom explained so.
Yana was lying with her elbows and breast on the window frame; her arms were in steam engine's soot up to her elbows. Yana talked to the blue flowers. She said that they were going to an evacuation zone - it was a town where there is no war - and they left daddy because daddy was needed in the war but she and mommy were not needed there. She and mommy couldn't shoot but in the war you must shoot and shouldn't afraid of bombs. And there you should give your life for the Homeland. And when daddy gives his life for the Homeland he will come to an evacuation zone and take her and her mum home.
"Leave me alone, can't you see you mommy has no time. I'll teach you to dirty yourself. I'll teach you to sit in a draught..."
"Such flowers don't exist - why don't you look at them? Or maybe I, Yana, can see them in a different way? Not so as all adults can? However, do you have time for flowers? And you have no time for me. If I'm alive and healthy that's well and good. It came to pass so - the war began. We would soon hardly see each other - our landlady would take me from a kindergarten and feed myself, her son and granny Xenia with suppers. Lentil kasha, soup of herring heads or potato chips were wonder of wonders at that time.
After suppers granny Xenia used to tell me about her God and teach me obscure and mysterious words, with which one must talk to God. I blurted them out before going to bed as a password and then spoke in my own words of what had happened during a day, consulted with Him and beg Him of something.
You used to come back from the factory when I was already in bed and went away when I was still in bed. Only at nights in my sleep I felt warmth of your body beside me. Even on Sundays you worked either in a field of a sponsored collective farm, or at home at saucepans, washing tubs and landlady's sewing machine.
"Let's leave it until later, Yana. You can see how busy your mom is. You are a big girl already and must understand. Go, Yana..."
I became estranged from you. "Wait until the war ends..." We lived off the future, "When the war ends I'll see daddy again, and an ice-cream will be bought for me, and our train on the way back will stop at the blue embankment with blue flowers. It will stop for a very long time, and we will pick very big flowers..."
Before falling asleep I asked granny Xenia's God that the war should finish tomorrow, and then everything would come true.
We returned in autumn of 1943 - what flowers can be in autumn? At Kazansky railway station you bought an ice-cream for me. Father wasn't be alive then. And you...
After work you studied at night branch of your institute. You made up for these lost years. In your mind a bold idea appeared - to finish father's dissertation. And again I saw you very seldom.
Though you graduated from your institute but a postgraduate course was lost because it became clear that somebody had successfully elaborated and finished dad's subject already.
And you gave in. You were sitting at home in the evenings, not knowing what to do with yourself. You became estranged from your own home, and I became estranged from you, and we only disturbed each other.
Then you remembered that you are over thirsty already, and if nothing came out of the postgraduate course and science, you must assert yourself in other way, and you rushed to search for a husband as fervently as everything you had ever done. Some boxes, bottles, dress lengths appeared in our room and the names of different women from a hairdresser's were heard, our neighbors began to say that you had become much prettier, and it was really as if a demon got into you. You weren't so thin even in your youth. Your penciled eyes seemed to be dark and huge like a Gipsy fortune-teller's, you beautiful exposed forehead, slight shadows on the hollows of your cheeks, a bright cherry red dab on your lips, and you were all bright, lithe and slender in your tight cherry dress with embroidery, in which it was hardly possible to make a single step (I couldn't do that when I tried it on), but you flew and slid in it; you crossed your legs as if you were born in this incredibly tight clothes and as if it were your other skin.
Girls said, "How beautiful you mom is," and you finally found a husband for yourself in that post-war lack of men, quite a decent husband, a kind and attentive widower, an outwardly pleasant one who even worked as a boss. He and I did arithmetical sums about fishers and pedestrians, and I was on excellent terms with him, and when you began to run away from both of us to some female friends or became an inveterate theatergoer or a voluntary group activist or delayed at your office with or without reason in order not to go home, I judged you and felt sorry for my stepfather. And only many years later I understood that you needed neither postgraduate course, nor tireless activity, not the best husband, that you needed only Arkady Sinegin, that being his wife or his "half" on the earth was your own predestination and calling in the best sense of this word because great scientists (the father was expected to have bright future) should have this kind of wives. And who knows how many great people humanity got only thanks to these "halves". Only many years later I understood that his death wasn't a loss of your husband and beloved man for you but a loss of your vocation and the meaning or purpose of your life, and that was the reason of your blind disorderly rush from one work to another, from one man to another and from one role to another like a ship without a compass...
You played dozens of unsuccessful roles, not of your own, and when you at last recalled the role of mother and decided that it was your own sole role I was almost in other dimension; several thousand days divided me from the blue embankment. I spent those days without you.
I was shocked by this sadden hailstorm of parental emotions, by your kisses and other endearments. You seemed funny and odd to me like an old maid with ruffles and grimaces of a schoolgirl, to me, Joanna Sinegina, who will publish her inspired opuses on the mental and ethical themes in a town paper, to an expert in human souls and your daughter.
And in the meantime I will be sending holiday postcards to you to the town of Kerch.
"Dear mom, I congratulate you..."
I never liked and could write letters.
You moved to Kerch after your marriage. There Arkady Sinegin was born and grew up. There you met him on a beach. He came up and said, "Miss, it seems you've got sunburn." Something symbolic seemed to you in this phrase.
The telegram from Kerch didn't find me because I was in a tourist journey in Italy. Taking counsel with each other they decided not to inform me of it and not to upset me because nothing can be changed in any case. I came late to you again. For the last time I came late to you, mom!
"I have a tortoise," Yana bragged to blue flowers. "It wears houses. It has a lot of houses: a coat-house, a dress-house..." The flowers were amazingly swinging on their unusually long stems.
"Oh, mommy, mommy, we have started off already..."
In a moment mom rose to shut the window; she feared for Jana's ears. From her knees scissors fell with a jingle, and when mom bended down to pick them up, for five second only, Yana was still seeing the blueness rushing behind the window.