A Ticket to childhood. Joanna's Page 7
A Ticket to childhood. Joanna's Page 7
They were coming back from the evacuation zone. Pictures from her memory put one over another in a chaotic way, perhaps, this "going home" was in a hurry because of that sudden mom's decision when the access to Moscow was allowed, and mom immediately began to prepare for a journey, listening nobody's persuasions that it would be better to wait at least for the child's sake.
She had reckless fanatic confidence that there in a near Moscow town, in our house, in our post-box on the second floor a father's letter was waiting for her.
Joanna would understand it later.
Mom's hands were flying over suitcases and the belongings were flying there anyway - she rammed and pressed them; something cracked and broke. Yana with kindergarten's bag, packed with sweet wrappers, crocks and rags (granny Xenia's fortune), could see their corner emptying and depersonalizing. Behind the unusually bare window without curtains she could see Kolya with the landlady cutting woods and went to the yard to boast that they were going home, that she would again see a blue embankment, their house and her father, and an ice-cream would be bought for her.
She went out not to the yard but to the deck, where there were a lot of women with baskets and bags and their children holding their skirts because women's hands were engaged, and also held mom's skirt while she moved to the exit, carrying her suitcases.
The riverbank became closer and closer: a bank-hill, a bank-town, a town on a hill. Yana was going to ask mom why houses didn't roll down the hill but she already sat on a suitcase on a platform. And again around her there were women with children holding their skirts, and mom left "on business". Mom was absent and absent, and it began to rain. Maybe Yana sniffed or drops of rain were flowing down her cheeks.
Later they were in a heated goods carriage; the carriage creaked and swung. It was hot, stuffy, and there were the same women with children, and the rain beat against the window; there were nothing except the rain, no matter how Yana tried to discern something outside the window.
"What flowers can be now? It's autumn."
Mom spoke and also looked out of the window. She believed in a crumpled triangular letter in our post-box, like Yana believed in blue flowers, and then her look hastened and overtook the train, or didn't believe, and then her agonizing look stayed somewhere on the moving away joint of rails but later, after reviving and recovering, flew after the train and overtook it. It was again seeking for a miracle fold in triangle and sealed by a bread crumb.
The most amazing things are details: a subtle trait on mom's cheekbones from her nose to her ear as if somebody drew a line with his pencil and immediately erased it. She didn't have this trait when they left for an evacuation zone and saw a blue embankment. Later this trait would become deeper and deeper until it looked like a scar. And because of it there would be something of an old actress in her. But this would be later, and now there was only a subtle trait on mom's cheekbone, mom's smell and a smell of fried onion in the carriage. Yana could hear a frying pan sizzling on the cast-iron stove. And on the table there was a newspaper, a wartime one. But Yana couldn't read yet. Joanna could only repeat herself, that former Yana. And no digressions were possible for an actress, not an actress but a puppet or marionette that came from the past, and no freedom of will.
It was Moscow, oh Lord, Moscow in 1943. They arrived at the Kazansky railway station. Yes, it was really so. They were on the Komsomol square. There were very few cars, only old-fashioned models and most of them were black. They hardly crawled and honked as loudly as they could. There were girls in long narrow jackets; they were short-haired or with high forelocks and with locks falling on square shoulders of their jackets. Don't hurry, mom! We were going through a second-hand market - they were selling bread, American canned stewed meat, rags and sweets. A tram was coming. And Yana would like to hop its footboard and go through Moscow. She would like to walk around Moscow.
Mom carried a rucksack behind her back and suitcases in both of her hands. Yana was told to hold a half-belt of mom's coat. They were running through the square to another railway station. The train travelled for half an hour to their station, and from there it took them twenty minutes to reach their house with a post-box on its door. Yana whimpered demanding the promised ice-cream. Mom bought it. But she was completely disappointed. It was not an ice cream but a cold piece of chocolate on a stick. Yana could remember an ice-cream in a paper wide glass, a white one with vanilla taste, and even a small trowel.
Mum lost her nerves. After being punched and gulping back her tears, Yana sank her teeth into a chocolate, applying a principle 'something is better than nothing'. And her heart joyfully trembled, when she felt with her tongue that prewar taste under the crisp chocolate crust.
Perhaps, all war children had so many fairy recollections about food.
Yana sat on the suitcases; she was all in the ice-cream. Mum has left for tickets. Their train was departing in twenty minutes. It was the train to her childhood.
SCARLET PILLOWS ON THE SOFA
It would be for the rest of her life. "Would you go and buy a newspaper," mom would ask Yana several times a day in a year, in two and in five years. She woul need no newspaper. The key of the post-box would be hanging on the small chain over her bed as a crucifix.
Later Yana found herself in a winter snowstorm day. Grown-ups sedately were going to the club. Nodding each other with an air of importance, they shook snow off their shoulders and went to the hall, which was partitioned with a threadbare green plush. They took ballots at agitators sitting at the tables, went to the box, which looked like a post-box but was a bigger one with two palms on both of its sides and hurried to drop fold up sheets into the chink of the box. After that it was as if a knot were untied, which tightly bounded their movements, gestures, muscles of their faces, voices, and there outside the door everybody began to laugh, joke, speak in load voices and swung their arms.
Yana was in a labyrinth. Moments, minutes and hours were passing. Yana penetrated through its invisible walls from one moment to another, these moment were shuffled like a pack of cards.
While mom rummaged something near the table. Yana hung around a mysterious plush curtain that looked like a curtain in the theatre where mom once took her to. 'The Blue Bird' by Maeterlinck. The curtain meant a fairy-tale or a miracle to Yana.
Holding her breath she looked over the green plush. In semidarkness she could see a tiny room, a polling booth. There was nothing special in it. There were a bare table, a chair and a sharp-cut pencil there
Yana sneaked along the curtain and found one more booth.
"Mum, look, come here!"
Mum grasped her hand and pulled her away laughing intentionally loudly as if she invited everybody to laugh with her. As if she would like to say, 'Excuse me. What can you expect of her? She is still a child!" That was what her laugh means - Yana knew it very well. She always did so when she said something foolish, tactless and improper.
Mum brought Yana to the box and gave her a ballot.
"Drop it, drop it yourself."
By her voice and face Yana again could understand that although her previous act was a mistake of hers now she had an honest right to corrects it. And standing on tip-toes she put the sheet into the chink, and at this moment something flashed like a lightning. The photographer Misha photographed her for a report showcase. The picture would hang on a wall in the club but Misha would never print its copy for them though he promised to.
But later he would grant the picture itself. Mum would hang it over father's desk, and Yana, doing her lessons, would invent all kinds of incredible stories about mysterious booth behind a plush curtain and about sharp-cut pencil on a table, which shouldn't be touched or else...
Those were her first writing works.
From the hall the mom and Yana went to the foyer. There they danced. Coats, caps, kerchiefs and felt-boots were piled up on chairs. Women wore (mainly lades were present here) bright summer dresses with short sleeves. It was cold in the foyer, women had become numb, especially those ones who didn't dance, but they stood firm, showed off and stamped their feet in shoes-pumps. Only few of them wore stockings; there was no caprone yet, Persian-thread and even simple ones were hard-to-get. Therefore, they danced barefoot in their felt-boots. Mom wasn't interested in dancing. She took a key to the reading hall at her friend librarian and went to the second floor to prepare for exams. Yana was told to go for a walk, return for dinner and not hang about the record player.
A record payer was Yana's weakness because it was also a miracle.
Voices and music from a black loudspeaker were ordinary; sounds ran through wires like electricity. Yana knew and understood it but as for a record player...
She is so amazed not by a record player itself but by records, fragile records; in every of them a song or a dance entirely lived. With emotions of a singer, sounds of orchestra and even with cough in an invisible hall. Of course, it was impossible in reality, and so every record was a fairy one. And it was a miracle because it could be revived by putting a sound-receiver on a brim of a record.
Yana was surprised at those boys who secretly knocked the box, scratched record by their fingernails or tried to somehow look into a record-player. From her point of view it was as absurd as looking for a motor of a magic carpet.
Most of all she liked the record with following words:
"Let the deceived and indifferent husband
Wait for his humble wife in the dining-room..."
Yana imagined a large dining hall and a hungry and deceived husband at a table who hadn't got his dinner because his wife kept meal coupons and gave them to her lover, a strange uncle. And she felt sorry for the husband.
"Scarlet pillows on the sofa..."
When Yana grew up she also would have scarlet pillows on her sofa.
The game director Tonya also didn't o dance, and she entrusted changing records to Yana. Yana put her best one - a tango. The tango was called 'A Slow Dance'. Musya was dancing with a sailor who could hardly drag his feet, squeezing a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and lazily looking over dancing women.
How young were all of them who before looked like old men! And she knew everything about them. She could foretell their future and prevent so many misfortunes! But the scene could only endlessly repeat itself; it was a play about her.
Yana hastened to the pond, squeezing her "sledge", a seat of a bent-wood chair, under her arm. The wind threw handfuls of biting white dust to her face and blew tears out of her eyes. Yana wrapped herself into her kerchief up to her eyebrows and could feel prickly woolen cloth warmed by her breath around her lips.
Winter was a smell of wet woolen cloth and subtle footsteps of foot-belts on snow that were just bought to allow for growth; these were not sounds but an anticipation of them: somewhere at the pond behind grey thickness of the sky, falling on the earth and behind the silence Yana could recognize her yelling, screeching, laughing and roaring friends. By some ecstatic feeling (perhaps children have such a feeling) she guessed the shortest way to her friends, hastened and ran faster and faster along a snowbound path and didn't keep up with her heart, which rushed and longed to go forward where was an icy slide darkens, polished by planks, veneers, fur coats and trousers. A few seconds from the top to the downhill were a few seconds of a miracle, in which there were excitement and horror, pain of blown noses and burning snow behind collars.
Wasn't there a great depth of meaning or symbolism in childish games?
From the meadow behind the house a hot and fragrant steam was rising as if it were from just now made tea. It rained for a long time, and now a June sun shone its brightest.
Yana went to the fence; somebody grabbed a small kitchen garden from the meadow and fenced it, and green onion had already sprouted on the patch of land. In her hand Yana had a slice of bread moisten with sunflower oil and sprinkled with salt, and in addition some leaves of onion.
Yana went towards her happiness, not towards onion, of course; onion is a trifle. Now she was going to meet Lyuska, and her rest was gone. Delightful and sad days rushed together with all kinds of worries and exciting experiences. Luska could be compared with onion, pepper, mustard and something else. She was sweet pasty with onion, cinnamon, pepper and mustard.
Such a girl Lyuska is. Now Yana was going to get her sweet pasty. She was in several steps distance to Luska. She was sitting on the fence and dangling one of her legs. Her feet were so dirty, that it first seemed to Yana that Luska wore brown boots.
It was like a sunstroke or knockout at the first sight. Could there be other such girl in the world? Luska's hair was entangled like hay in a haystack, and a fragment of comb stuck in it like pitchfork without a handle. Lyuska wore no dress, only lilac pants, which are rolled up like shorts. Her thin and flexible body like a lizard's was shot with black, and you couldn't make out whether it was dirty or tanned. From her shoulder to her elbow Lyuska had a tattoo - mermaid with fish tail. But the most wonderful things Luska had were her eyes. A moment ago her eyes were closed: it seemed that Lyuska dozed, basking in the sun, then her eyes opened a little, and narrow chinks appeared in them: Lyuska felt approaching Yana. Lyuska's eyes fixed it and immediately closed, being dull and indifferent. Yana looks at them as if she looked into a window from outside. But here was a miracle. Her eyes flashed and shone with a tender look as if they were saying, "Come here quick, come to me, I'm very glad to see you, I love you very much."
Their feelings were mutual. Yana delighted in happiness; she didn't believe in it yet. Was it really that the miracle stretched out its hand to her: could she really touch her ring weaved of many-colored wires on the little finger of this wonderful girl?
Yana touched the ring, and Lyuska smiled. She had several teeth out single-space. They look black-and-white keys. Yana screwed up her eyes and reverently shook dry and hot Lyuska's fingers. The wire of the ring scratched Yana's palm.
"Let me bite some bread", Luska said.
Her teeth-keys stuck into the bread and moistly slid on Yana's skin; Yana hardly managed to snatch her hand away holding a bit of bread with marks of Luska's teeth.
"I know you," Lyuska said, hardly moving by her full mouth. You are from a big house, your father was killed, and yesterday you swam on a pillowcase."
Yana happily nodded, swallowing a bit of bread and not feeling it taste. What onion could be now?
"It was wonderful to swim on a pillowcase. But mine was hole-ridden."
"I have one more."
"Then bring it and let's go to the pond."
Yana ran home but she could reach it. Colors grew dim and fog came down. The page was going to turn over and she had no time to take a new starched pillowcase from a pillow. It was the first crime for Lyuska's case, and how many ones there would be!
Yana drew away the ticket collector aunt Klava, so that Lyuska could get to the film 'The Lady with Camellias', drew away a watchman, so that Lyuska could regale herself with kolkhoz currants and drew away a teacher, so that Lyuska could crib other pupil's works. Yana got caught but Lyuska never did. Yana was considered as a hooligan but Lyuska as a good child. Yana was scolded and punished but she was happy. It was a real passion, sacrificial and selfless one.
Once mom's downy beret was lost. In several days she ran into Lyuska outside the house. Lyuska showed of mom's beret. Yana cried and swore that she had presented the beret, gave it to her by force, not knowing why. Probably, she was so bad, and let mom not allow her to go to the cinema for a year but not complain to Lyuska's mother.
Them mom said that let Luska excuse her, as Yana was so mad, but she needed that beret, and as it was cold outside, so let Lyuska wear her woolen kerchief with roses and keep it, and that she would talk to Yana about it at home.
Lyuska tenderly screwed up her eyes at Yana from the kerchief with roses; the kerchief fitted her very well. Yana dragged herself after mom and was ready to carry any punishment. Mom would silently enter the room, threw her coat and ill-fatted beret on the sofa and, drawing Yana to herself, ask her in bitter perplexity:
"Why do you love her so much?"
Yana didn't know that. For some reason this illness was also called love. Of course, she shouldn't have loved Luska. She should have loved her mum. And now after many years she didn't love Lyuska at all and understood everything, but mom died long ago, and nothing could be corrected.
A neighborhood war-game was between our people and the fritz. Girls were accepted only as fascists. As nobody of the children wanted to be fascists, they established an obligatory order of priority. Those who lost at the game sometimes became "the fritz" for several days and because of humiliation sometimes behaved ferociously like true fascists.
Once Yana were given an honor to be a partisan and explode a bridge crossing a ditch that was constructed by the enemies. The bridge was made of an old door and several rotten planks: it was guarded by Zuka (Zukin).
Yana used a stratagem. She stole up hiding herself behind a tree and cut adrift a ship of pine bark made for her by an acquaintance uncle. It grieved her to lose a ship but the game was worth the candle. It went without saying that Zuka ran after a snare; the stream after raining was intense, and Yana managed to tumble the bridge down the ditch and began to run away.
The deceived Zuka who in addition didn't catch the ship caught her without any difficulty, boxed her on the ear and took her captive. But to restore the bridge Zuka should release his captive because he had no rope to tie her up. After hesitating angry Zuka decided to ignore the bridge, and twisting hir dirty fist under her nose he said that he wouldn't let her go until she said where their partisan headquarters were. The headquarters were nearby in Katya's shed but Yana in delightful horror said, "Never." And Zuka at the gunpoint of his wooden submachine gun led her though a neighboring front door to the loft of their house. On their way they met familiar grown-ups, and both of them reverently greeted them as if nothing happened because it was strongly forbidden to involve grown-ups in their game under the threat of hard sanctions until the end of the childhood.
"Spill your secrets, I ask you for the last time."
But Yana resolutely shook her head.
Zuka pushed her into the loft, shut a bar outside the door and growled through the door that if she changed her mind let her open the loft's window, it would be a conventional sign that she surrendered. Or else let her stay here for all her life.
Insidious Zuka invented this thing, so that that she had no right to open the window and call for help, It grew dark; something crackled, rustled and cheeped - perhaps, rats. Below voices sounded; somebody stamped on the stairway, returning from work. Then her mother called her long and worriedly. Now she would get it hot if she ever goes out of it. And only one thing did Yana know very well: she would never open the window even if she was eaten by rats.
It became completely dark. Being in a flood of tears Yana prayed granny Xenia's God and ask him to interfere and save her.
"Do something, dear God, mom is worrying about me. Please whisper her that I'm here.
And the miracle happened. A sound of footsteps on the stairway, laughter and the door opened. Pocket flashlights illuminated the walls and children burst into the loft. After them adults came and opened the lofts window. Zuka was here and didn't look at her as if they hadn't just fought to death. Everybody came to see a salute; it was just announced on the radio about seizure of some town by the Soviet army. And for this reason it was decided to fire a salute of twenty salvoes. The salute over Moscow could be seen only from here, from the loft, and Zuka was not at all an enemy now as well as other boys, and even mom, who threatened her,
"Tomorrow you won't be allowed to go to the cinema. Where are you gadding about?"
Mom embraced her and raised her a little, so that she could get a better view. The cinema was little nothing of life; she won't go to it if needed. And tomorrow mom may become kinder.
And suddenly fairy and many-colored glow flashed behind the forest.
"Hurrah!" Everybody counted salvoes all together: and their heart beat all together: our army has seized one more town. She, Yana-partisan, has also won today, and God has heard her. We are all together and God is with us.
THIS VICTORY DAY
On May of 1945 the festive salute was held after the parade of Victory. The sky again and again burst out joyful colors, and a crowd swam and rocked. You could raise your legs and swim together with it. Yana's cheek was wet of somebody's kisses, and everybody kissed each and all: there were no strange people here: everybody was our people. And you couldn't wipe your cheek and raise your arm - it was so crowded.
Everybody sang and sang, made mistakes, confused words and started new songs, and mom seemed to sing loader than everybody but she watched the crowd with the same great attention. "What if he appears at six p.m. after the war?"