The Return. Joanna's Page 6
The Return. Joanna's Page 6
She had amazing and wonderful childhood. Or was it a peculiarity and a privilege of war children? They had lack of all things: bread, clothes, toys and entertainments. And that's why they could be happy with small mercies: A new dress sewn from an old one belonged to mother, a sweet, a bottle of lemonade, a paper elastic ball bought in the market. Their imagination provided these "small mercies" with all attributes of magic and significance.
Those fairy New Year's trees with homemade flags and pieces of old wadding on their branches and amateur concerts with indispensable choirs singing 'Varyag' and "Artillerymen, Stalin gave a Command" and dances 'Yablochko' and 'The Moon is Shining'. Now it makes one laugh but then... How wonderful was this poem about a severe hero-pilot and his courageous sister Nadya who rushed to put out firebombs, not sparing her new shoes and her brother who returned "with glory" and granted her a bicycle as a reward. Those were wonderful poems.
And New Year's gifts! Three sweets, two biscuits, one mandarin and a picture that must be cut out and hung on a New Year's tree - what wonderful gifts they were.
It was wonderful childhood.
Their small two-storied house (eight flats for eighteen families) stood on the very outskirts of the town that was rather a big village at that time. Behind the house there were kitchen gardens, a kolkhoz meadow currant bushes, a pond and a wood: therefore, it can be said that she had rural childhood in the open countryside. But there was little of this "countryside". There was nothing luxuriant and boundless. A sparse wood where she knew all trees, ravines and glades but it was a true wood where birds sang and where one could find wild strawberries in July and mushrooms in August. The wood which was green, yellowish, transparent, naked or white, depending on seasons. The strawberries were measured not by jars or glasses or but by a straw, on which the berries ware threaded like beads. Mushrooms were measured not by buckets but by pieces. The one who found a squirrel's food became a hero of a day. It was happy to see an unknown flower in the meadow, a mourning-cloak butterfly, an emperor moth or a dragonfly. All of that was not enough and for this reason, the wood, the pond with its bathing hut, with its place for divers and with its pool, a refuge for frogs and leeches, the slope to the pond, which served as a slide in winter; ribbed and rough ice on the skating-rink when the pond was frozen and a sole willow with a rope, on which one could swing over the water.
Maybe even at that time in that frail world touching and defenseless doom was felt, and protecting that world, children loved and protected so necessary confidence of firmness and eternity of the world of their childhood, a beginning of beginnings.
It was kept in her memory like that, as if it were on that old picture, which Joanna took out of a beer cardboard box when she "fooled away her time" (now it is called depression). A photographer caught a moment when seven-year-old Yana smiled like a clown, fearing to show her missing baby teeth. But this poor smile wasn't important; the main thing was that Yana stood on the very turn of the road from the railway station to their home from where one could see a meadow, kitchen gardens, a pond with a willow and a wood. This world of hers, this beginning of beginnings, which was so familiar for her, was spread before her eyes.
Joanna mentally travelled through kitchen gardens and a meadow to the willow and holding the rope flew over greenish water coated with duckweed. Her heart similarly stopped beating and her body languished, enjoying and suffering from division in two - it enjoyed the flight and longed for landing and having a foothold. And when her memory at last found land at the bank of the river she regained strength and recovery like Antaeus who touched the mother-land.
And one Sunday when Joanna particularly fooled away her time, she, feeling ashamed but comforting herself that her nostalgia for the past was now inherent to all humanity, came to the square of three railway stations in Moscow and bought a ticket to her childhood time.
There were no more steam locomotives at that time, and it took her half an hour to reach her station by an electric train, and Joanna seemed that she was going by overland railway along a new district of Moscow. Blocks of flats, plants, concrete platforms with colorful windows... plots of wood quickly rushed by the windows as if the train went into a green tunnel for a moment.
But the town of her childhood became now a real town with busses and cabs, and working her way through a labyrinth of new blocks, she again couldn't help feeling that she didn't leave Moscow.
She didn't recognize anything, and almost despaired to find something remotely referring to that photo, but suddenly she understood that she was standing at the very place where there was a road turn to her house. The only difference was that now before her there were no kitchen gardens, no meadow, no wood behind them and all the more no pond with a rope swinging on a willow. Instead of them there was a public service establishment where people crowded waiting for the end of a dinner break; there was a kindergarten with painted swings and sandpits, and behind it there were blocks whose inhabitant visited that establishment in order to have them clean their suits or repair their TV-sets. Their children went to this kindergarten or that school, and by evenings adults took their children and went to the cinema when the children under sixteen were allowed to.
All these things were in front of her, but an old path remained, and it led to her house.
It's surprising but nothing considerably changed here as if this plot of land with her house with, a stairway leading to the garret, with three birches and even with a washing line hung between birches was accurately cut out of her memory and moved here to this other new world. But the town rejected and didn't accept her as something alien and incompatible. The things that were once real and full of life drew themselves together and became colorless; they still existed but were dying and collapsing in everybody's eyes.
The house hadn't been repaired for a long time; the plaster on the wall was all in splits and stains; here and there it came off, and shingle was seen like ribs; on the roof rusty stains showed through. Autumnal mud around the house unattractively contrasted to clean concrete pavements, along which she just walked.
Where the path turned to her house there was no more asphalt. It looked like a springboard for divers at a pond.
Once her house was intended to become the beginning of the new town: two-storied one among one-storied ones. Maybe, for this reason until now it managed to remain in reconstruction plans. But the town stepped past the epoch of two-storied houses to the epoch of multi-storied, block and large-panel ones. Her house was neither the beginning of the new town, nor the end of the old one. He expressed and symbolized nothing; it stayed alone and strange.
She stayed at the edge of the sidewalk, looked at old women who sat at the front door and thought that her acquaintances who once weren't old women may be found among them, and how horrible it would be to approach them now through the mud and in boots-stockings, which were the latest fashion.
The old women also looked at her and whispered to one another.
"Miss, are you looking for anything?"
She started talking and only then felt nervous; the voice behind her back fell on her like an avalanche. But a boy in a nylon zip jacket, in bell-bottomed trousers and with shoulder-length hair smiled. He came from this new town that he was proud of and knew through and through: where the kindergarten, the school and the establishment of public service were as much as she once knew everything about that town of hers.
But he took her for his fellow-townsman because she also wore bell-bottomed pants covering lacquered boots-stockings and a leather jacket fitting in the waist, a leather beret with a large peak and a bag over her shoulder - a real girl.
She stared at him and was alone at that moment, neither with old women, nor with him, as well as her house was. But the boy didn't notice his mistake; maybe, she was preserved better than the house. He approvingly examined her jacket fitting in the waist and beret with a peak, having a burning desire to tell and show where every building was.
And then she cowardly turned her back upon the house and being horrified by herself asked him the way to the railway station...
The house was waiting for her. She was running to it along washed away path, and Tolya Luchkin in a blue ladies' coat was rolling his hoop towards her.
Mom led Yana along the path - it took them about 20 minutes to reach home from the railway station. They passed barracks and wooden huts with front gardens and geraniums on their windowsills. A boy in a blue ladies' coat girded with a belt rolled a rusty hoop along the path sniffing through his wet nose. This was Tolya Luchkin, a son of the shop assistant Nadya. He would roll his hoop until his six form school age, get bad marks and sink in his sniffles, and aunt Nadya would weep near her scales, watering cookies and cakes with salty rains of tears because of her negligent Tolik.
Later she would send Tolik to Crimea for a summer to a sanatorium to treat his chronic rhinitis, and there a miracle would happen with him. He not only would be healed of his rhinitis but come back so handsome that it would be more than words can tell. Was he Tolik or not Tolik? All girls at the school would sigh for him, and Yana will dedicate the first poem in her life to him where such lines would be written,
When you in a November park
Stroll sadly, waiting for me,
New-fallen snow becomes hot
Poplar snowstorm of May.
It was a lie, a poetic fiction. Tolik never waited for Yana or other girl in a park in May or all the more in November. Tolik Luchkin now spent all his free time in a club where in May, in November and even in January (the club wasn't heated) fans of chess gathered. In Yalta's sanatorium Tolik was not only healed of his rhinitis and became a handsome boy but learnt to play chess. Later Tolik would get a grade and go mad on chess once for all. He would go to matches, competition, grow and perfect himself, and his name would appear in newspapers. And when after many years Yana happened to meet him he would be a celebrity, an International Grand Master.
Being tired of glory and sun (by freak of fate they would get together right at Yalta's beach), grown bald and again lost his wonderful beauty, Tolik will sluggishly look over 'Literary Paper' and try to protect himself from fans humming around him. He will wear satin briefs and a chequered handkerchief on his head. Behind him a buxom woman-matron will knit a sweater for him, and Tolik will offer his naked back for fitting.
Yana would look at Tolik and see him rolling a hoop along a street and sniffling. She would see the sun appearing through his stuck out ears, aunt Nadya weeping at the counter and also herself and two more girls who becoming numb with cold clung to a frozen window of the club and admired at wonderful beauty of Tolik Luchkin who played his next chess opening. Joanna would recollect all of that after many years at Yalta's beach and for some reason decide not to approach Tolik but go with her roommate to hairdresser's to do her nails. And for some reason the very thought that this matron with knitting needles was aunt Nadya's daughter in law was particularly unbearable. Afterwards, seeing his "chess prognoses" in newspapers she would imagine his naked back with an unfinished sweater on it.
The boy splashed them with mud and ran away, tangling in laps of his coat and clattering by his hoop. Mom even didn't look around. Carrying big suitcases in both of her hands and a rucksack behind her back she trod on air. On her cheeks she had two hot spots-fires. A white ghost of father's letter in our post-box attracted her, and she ran after that ghost, seeing nothing, like Tolik who ran after his hoop.
"You are a fool," Yana cried to then unknown Tolik Luchkin and hurriedly went after mom past a long one-storied barracks with big windows, there she would study for seven years, past aunt Nadya's shop, behind which a house was hidden. In that house her friend Lyuska lived. In Luska's yard her little brother's nappies got dry. In three years she and Luska will take him to go by do-it-himself raft and nearly drown him in the pond. After some time he would bet Yana a thousand rubles that he would never marry. Later he would enter a Suvorov Military School, and after twenty years they would be destined to purchase Lada cars in the same day. And Yana woudn't doubt that a thickset major with a briefcase was Luska's brother Victor (Victor had a birthmark under his right eye). And a nervous restless lady near him was his spouse, and this meant that it was time to obtain a thousand rubles from him.
Joanna would be noble and only ask Victor about Lyuska. He will answer that Lyuska is remarried, and this marriage of her wa successful, that she had a daughter and worked in a design department at a plant. Lyuska was a draughtswoman.
It would turn out that Luska lived in ten minutes walking distance of her, and Joanna would write down her phone number.
She would never phone Luska.
But all of that would be later...
that was turn to the house. Over kitchen gardens smoke hung - they were burning tops of dug potatoes. Behind kitchen gardens there was a pond, a willow with yellow autumnal leaves and a meadow. And in the distance there was a wood as far as one's eye could embrace.
Their house is on the right. They go along the path pulling their feet out of squelching mud.
How beautiful their house was! It was heaven-high, exposed to the wind and newly painted by bright pink paint because everyone was tired to death of masking and darkened windows but now one shouldn't be afraid of bombing. The tenants would soon come back - from the front and evacuation zones, and the house would meet them in this bold, stunning, exotic and festive costume. They would settle in flats smelling of oil paint and had only works and holidays, love and quarrels, illnesses and recoveries, ups and downs. Old men would die and babies would be born. Babies would lie in buggies under windows under the care of the same old women. Later they would play in a sandpit under three birches, then be allowed to run to the pond behind kitchen gardens and then go to school... She returned to you, an old house, from the past and from the future. The house waited for her. It also waited for those who would return from the past to the past and those who would never return.
se everyone is tired to death of masking and darkened windows but now one shouldn't be afraid of bombing. The tenants will soon come back from the front and evacuation zones, and the house will meet them in this bold, stunning, exotic and festive costume. They will settle in flats smelling of oil paint and have only works and holidays, love and quarrels, illnesses and recoveries, ups and downs. Old men will die and babies will be born. Babies will lie in prams under windows under the care of the same old women. Later they will play in a sandpit under three birches; later they will be allowed to run to the pond behind kitchen gardens; later they will go to school... She returned to you, an old house, from the past and from the future. The house waited for her. It also waited for those who would return from the past to the past and those who would never return.