The Confession of a Non-Villain
How I wished her to embrace me, how I wanted her to…simply embrace me. She would nestle on my shoulder and begin to cry or even sniffle. But she was strong. She always was strong.
Everything began much earlier. But this morning, when the beep of an alarm clock pulled me out of a dream, I recollected where we needed to go today. I felt my body separated from me and really did not want to get up. My eyes did not want to open. I turned off the alarm by touch. Something cracked inside my back. Darkness was still outside the window. I put one of my legs out from under blanket carefully – cold, sat on the bed. I rubbed my eyes with my hands. The wife’s half of our bed was empty - she had to get up early, of course. I moved my legs onto the cold floor, careful touched my slippers and put them on . My wool slippers were warm and wide. But I did not feel better - the cold air from a little open window embraced me. My body shivered. It was refusing to get up, because of the cold. My body wanted to go back under the blanket, close my eyes and think about nothing…A hot shower would be the best solution – wash away the morning cold, dreams and thoughts…
The bright light in the bathroom almost blinded me. I turned on the shower and moved my face towards the hot water, closed my eyes …I would stand here and never go anywhere. My body filled with warm, slowly relaxed. I turned off the water, put the rough green towel on my head. My red baggy face looked out from the towel and reflected in the misted-over mirror like big and not fresh puffball. My lips were stark in an upside down smile from bitter tooth paste. Squinting eyes looked at the mirror with discontent. I soaped my face and started to shave. Blunt razor scraped my face and made long bare lines in the white foam, line by line. It would be better give birth one time to a child than to shave a face every day. I cut my chin, again. Why couldn’t I find my cologne in this madhouse? I stuck tissue to the cut. Otherwise I would daub my shirt.
The wardrobe was too full. I tried to pull out my white shirt. Half of this stuff that I never wore could be thrown away. My pants were without a belt again. Where could it be? On the floor…Of course…Socks were tight. How many times have I asked her to buy me loose socks... I chose a pale tie and tied it. I looked almost brave and ready to go.
But I did not want to go there, I was sure that all of this was a mistake. I sat in the kitchen and drank tea with a taste of soap. At work would be a meeting that day…
I did not want to go, but my wife was already putting on her boots. She always hurried. She always was on time or a little early wherever she went. She was never late. As soon as we met, I had felt like in my childhood, when somebody pulled my arm and I would follow without understanding why I had to do it. I tried to hang on to this arm always, tried a little to slow down this running. But this arm was strong and pulled me through time, through my childhood…
Dirty elevator smelled like yesterday’s socks. Dirty floor and blue walls with graffiti did not improve my mood either. The mail boxes on the wall were always broken. I got used to it many years ago, submitted and almost overlooked it…
The grey suburban
The electric train was full too. People in the train, those who had been on it for a long time, had learned to disconnect from life – to pull out their power cord and freeze for a while. The train had jerked. It was cold and stuffy. I wanted to un-button my jacket, but my portfolio impeded me. The annoyed woman whom I had pushed accidentally looked back. I stood in public transportation always. How cramped it was; how we bothered each other.
Why did we buy the apartment at the end of the world? We should have bought a smaller one in the city when it was possible. And these stupid repairs – how much energy, how much money. And nobody wanted to work, only to drink.
My wife stood, looking out of the window and seemingly did not remember where and why we were going. The train stopped.
The long caterpillar of gloomy people crawled down to the metro, and then was split once by turnstiles – at the exit, then at the entrance. Clapping doors. Why were they here? Why were there doors in the metro? One line at the ticket booth, another - to the escalator. Years ago, the metro was somehow more pleasant. The air was fresher, there were fewer people, even tours, I remember, sometimes went on at the main stations. Today nobody looked at the chandeliers or at the mosaics on the walls. Dust and soot of oblivion covered faces and walls…One more stop and we would arrive.
She knew where to go. We entered the big grey building; she didn’t even stop at the reception, went up the stairs. We could have used the elevator...
Line to the doctor’s office: people sat, not looking at each other, afraid to come across as sympathetic. No one talked. Somewhere at the end of the corridor a child had begun to cry. Everyone looked there. They came alive for a second, sighed, turned away, looked down. The medical staff seemed more polite, although I had not been in a hospital for a long time. But maybe it was always like this, I was here for the first time.
The door opened, her name was called. She didn’t even want to change her last name when we got married. She was called out of line, but nobody was surprised or indignant. Here there were no emotions, as though everyone was painted with grey. She entered the office and sat in a chair. I sat in the next. No mistake, the medical exam had confirmed her diagnosis. The doctor’s response was: prognosis is unfavorable – one year, maximum one and a half. She straightened a bit, squeezed her bag a little harder and said, ”This does not satisfy me.” Why did she say it like she was at the market? I was here, but it was like I was not here for her. Maybe she just didn’t want to look disturbed in public. She was strong always. We left the office. Our faces seemed frozen for those who looked at us.
“Are you going home or to work?” I asked her.
“Well, all right, I have to run too – I probably missed the meeting already.”
At home in the evening everything was normal: supper, TV - another soap opera. It seemed emotions were lost somewhere far away and everyone forgot about them. Although she tried to laugh. Why did I always wait for something from her? Carefully, I peered into her face. She should have begun to cry and turn to me with her weeping face with short curled hair over her forehead and lean on my shoulder. Why did I want this? I probably always waited for this so that she would allow me to love her.
Everything was as usual, maybe she forgot? I heard that people under stress sometimes reacted like this – like nothing happened. She would have to go to the hospital more often – the treatment would be hard. Maybe I should escort her to the hospital sometimes? No, I did not want to.
She began to knit more in the evening. She was knitting me a sweater, probably prickly again. But it would be impolite to refuse.
“Maybe you can knit something for yourself?”
“It might not be useful for me.”
It meant she remembered everything. I glanced at her. She was knitting so fast and watching TV. Who was I in her life? Why did she need me? How she had laughed when we just met…These dimples on her cheeks …She did not look ill. Her back was the same: straight .But she had become frozen, like ice covered her. She looked into herself often. And she knitted all the time.
I would like to stir her somehow. May be a quarrel? I thought shedding tears could help her or anger could melt her cold…What should I say to be spoiling for a fight with her? Tell about her over salted soup? No…About the bookcase? I wanted to talk about the bookcase for a long time. I should say it!
“I will move the bookcase to the window, when you die…”
Why did I say this? I felt myself like a villain. She answered me nothing, even did not glanced at me, continued to watch TV.
She went to her work rarely and sometimes stayed at home. I did not believe that she could cry. I did not believe her. Sometimes she wrote something, sometimes drew. She could read something. What interesting book could I give her? What did she generally read? I did not remember. My choice would probably be wrong, as usual. How hard it was to live in a house with a frozen woman… Even the air in the apartment became colder somehow. It would be too easy for her: turn to me and lean on my shoulder…It would be too easy…It was impossible that all her forces were spent on her illness. I did not believe that this struggle with her illness was so terrible for her.
Suddenly I imagined if she began to cry…cry the whole day. It would be worse. I could not see this. She had so exhausted me with herself… I even came home from work later than usual. There were the suppers, everyday soap operas on TV and the prickly sweater in her hands. I could not live the same anymore. Especially this sweater. And its color was nasty-gray. I could not. Maybe the business trip would help me? But it would be a very difficult time for her – the end of chemotherapy. And I would be here. I could support her, if she would not refuse my help. I thought, she would refuse, as usual.
It was solved - with a business trip!
“I planned a business trip…two or three weeks, no more…Can you stay here without me? I will call you every day.”
“It is not necessary to call me every day, two times per week is enough.”
And no more words and questions. She didn’t even ask where I was going…
The weather was cold. Almost a year had passed since our visit to the doctor. How long it was continuing… An impossibly long year…
I bought the ticket on the train for the next day, for the evening. I had to go on this foolish conference. Really, I had a week for this trip. It was enough, I thought. It was interesting for me: if I would come back earlier, was she going to be glad? Would I bring some gift for her? I always did. Sometimes, she smiled and thanked me, but I felt that she did not like it again.
I liked riding in the train. It made me calm. The knock of the wheels, night light, glass of tea with lemon…The ticket had become more expensive and service had become better too. The bed was already done. I had not gone on a business trip for a long time. Darkness was in the window, street lights flashed sometimes and no TV. This country seemed so big, but empty. Almost all the lights and people were in
In my childhood, I remembered, I came back home from winter darkness after snow battles with wet clothes, especially pants and mittens, took them off and ran into the brightly lit kitchen. The meatballs were already done and smelled wonderful. I put the meatballs on the warm rye bread with salted cucumber from a cold, misted, glass jar. I put a hot potato on the plate and began to eat. I was happy and savored each piece. I could die from happiness. The compote from dried fruits in a big jar on the window sill was not very cold. I could drink only three glasses of compote after the meatballs, not more. I pulled out a pear or an apricot from the compote with a long spoon and ate it slowly. I could not move after dinner. I was happy. It was childhood.
Of course, I forgot to take sandwiches on the train. She could offer to make them, but she did not offer. Maybe I could buy cookies from the guard?
I was happy in childhood even from the first snowflakes. When I became adult I started to think about morning grey slushy swill on the road when I saw snowflakes. Something changed inside a person during their life, something broken…Why? We were young, full of forces, independent: we would be doing what we wanted, received pleasure from life. But we did not. We had a habit: to think about tomorrow, forget about today. All colors of our lives became grey, sad, without warmth and brightness. Could we change it? It was not clear…
I thought , my wife could change during her illness: would become warmer and sensual. I was wrong. I could not help her and she did not want my help. Maybe she even despised me. I had never known what she was thinking about me, especially at that time… There was no hope that she could open her soul to me…maybe it was not necessary for me. Who knew?
I did not remember the last time I ate these cookies, but they were pretty good with tea… I had to sleep. The meeting would start early tomorrow morning. I fell asleep and thought, “Do not forget to give the guard a tip.”
The sunny morning was in this small provincial town. The snow was on the ground. I had forgotten that here the weather could be different than in
They were waiting for me. I was the top banana for them. Their car was impossibly old but not antique yet. Why they did not have a good car to meet me? I sat in this crowded car and looked at the window. Young and elderly women at the rail station tied warm kerchiefs round their heads as did all provincials …
I liked provincial towns and provincial people. I felt better here than in
I would like to go to a hotel. I had to look good during this conference. The hotel was not luxurious, of course, but had hot water. One week living here was possible. I took a shower, shaved. Put on fresh a shirt and bright tie in front the mirror. I tried to make my face more respectable, eyes - a little bit martial. They had to feel that I was the boss. Did not hurry. It would be better to be a little late to the meeting.
The car was waiting for me. I put a portfolio with documents on the back seat. The snow was not melting. Faces in this town were different from faces in
The meeting was boring, not necessary for anybody – to me or them. Everybody was sitting and yawning, almost sleeping. Why did I come here? I would like to walk to the hotel after the meeting. It was not too far. Tonight in this city would be the same boredom, I thought...
“What the hell? Be careful, lady, watch your step!”
Where did she appear from? She could have knocked me down. Her figure was good but this wasn’t easy to see because she was dressed in a dark long fur coat…I thought, she would apologize to me for three hours.
“I am sorry, the ground is ice-covered here,” she mumbled and hurried further. Surprisingly, her make-up was not bright. Straight nose, a little chubby mouth with pale lipstick and several blond curls that jut out from her fur hat... She had something that I had not seen in
“Excuse me, lady, can I ask you where the closest grocery store is.” I asked loudly and ran down to her. She looked back. “I arrived from
“Yes, of course,” she began her explanation, almost did not look at me and did not slow her fast walking. “Look there, beside this building, you can buy wine there too,” she waved her hand. “I can show you it, I am going there too.”
I tried to walk at the same pace as she. What the hell? I was a
“Can I hold your hand? You could fall down again. It is not good: the boss with bruised knees…” she offered and smiled.
Her smile was very simple, without challenge or pose, of which I was so tired. A ring was on her hand, it meant she was married. Probably, it would be better.
Why did she come to this café for lunch when I asked her for a date? She had the same name as my wife Elena. But there was nothing more different in my life than these two women with the same name. She looked very trusting, very calm. Why did she come here? Her life was probably good: a husband, children. She did not need gifts from me, of course. I could not even give her flowers because she wouldn’t be able to explain it at home. But I wanted to see her. Her charm warmed me. Maybe I needed nothing, just looking into her green eyes. I was very glad to see her, very glad. I was afraid that she would not want to come here, was afraid to admit to myself that I had fallen in love like a boy.
I wanted to tell her about my life. I was sure that she would listen, understand and not blame me. It was enough for me. And I spoke, spoke for a long time. We drank something, probably coffee and cakes. She bit the cake cautiously, being afraid to drop crumbs and collected them with her finger on the table, carefully cleaned her fingers over her plate. She drank the coffee from her cup very carefully, too, and was thinking about something. No one, during my life, had listened to me like her: with care and attentiveness. Her lunch time was gone, so I was afraid that she might remember it and leave. She glanced at her watch only once and did not look at it any more. She did not hurry. When was she going back to her office?
I sat and thought about her: she had to go leave this café sometime, leave me, leave me forever…I could not think about it. I tried to make myself not think about it. It seemed if I could not see her fingers that collected crumbs on the table, I would die. Thin hands, long fingers… What did I need in her, why did I go inside her soul and open my soul for her? Why? It would be painful for us to stop later, more painful than at that time. I had to stop it immediately. I had to go back home, to my wife, to TV and unfinished sweater. I had to go back while it was still possible, while I had not lost myself in her, in her life completely.
But I could not. I knew that I had one week. And she knew about it and asked me nothing and demanded nothing from me.
During this week, I was often wondering if she loved me or just felt sorry for me. But I was afraid to ask her about it. And she had not spoken about it either. I had gotten into the habit of seeing her, cuddling her hand to my excited neck and got used to the reflection in her eyes where cold anguish had disappeared. I knew the warmth of her body, I felt the warmth her soul. I remembered her every mole, her every hair by touch. She filled me with herself, with her warmth and light…If I would simply say I loved her, it would not be true. I lived because she existed, I lived only for her… because I wanted to see her deep emerald eyes…
In Friday we met at the café for the last time. We sat at the table. Too many people were around us. The drops of water were trickling down the side of the misted glasses of beer, but I did not want to drink. My hand covered her hand. She flinched. I wanted to tell her too much: that I was very happy with her, with her warmth and calm, I had never been happy like now, that I would come closer to her, but I was afraid, afraid not of her, afraid of myself. I was afraid that I could not stop. I was afraid of destroying her life. I should leave her and never come back here. I would try to do it. I would remember her forever.
I wanted to tell her, look into her eyes, but I couldn't. I only said quietly, “I have to go back to
“Of course, you must go home, I understand...”
She stood up, put on her fur coat, gripped her gloves and went outside from the café, not looking back at me. And I could not stop her. I did not have the right to stop her. Why? I did not know, but I felt it …
Later, I asked myself many times why I could not say all these words to her. Maybe my life would change and we could be happy…What prevented our happiness, prevented us from being together? The answer was very simple: we did not have enough courage. We were like two planets, rushing at full speed in the cosmos in their own orbits. We accidentally came closer to each other in one moment, impossibly closer, maybe just because it was in one very short moment in our lives. We did not have enough courage to come off our own orbits, not very cozy orbits, but habitable.
It seemed, such a trifle – courage… But it turned out that we needed so much to look around us and admit to ourselves that we lived alien lives, that we had sunk to our necks in this bog and we did not have enough strength to get out of it. It turned out that we would need too much courage to look her children and our own friends in the eyes. But maybe our consciences already woke up after a short and happy dream.
You could say that a woman is always happy to hear words about love and accept proposals of marriage. Maybe. But I felt that she would not know what to do with my heart and hand .
We did not have time to think. The force of inertia of the orbits began to take us away from each other, farther and farther, in opposite directions. And we unhooked our hands because this force, beyond our control, could rip us to pieces.
Maybe it was simply comfortable to think so, we did not need courage for this, we would not make any decisions, not take responsibility… It would be too easy – to unhook our hands, clench our teeth and continue to move in our orbits. And we unhooked our hands and tried to move in our own orbits, not thinking that our trajectories were different and we would not had a chance to hook our hands together ever again. Because in the future for a long time we would be afraid of the pain of unhooking our hands, even would be afraid of extending our hands to each other.
But in the moment when she went outside from the cafe I did not think about it yet. I just felt that I did not have a heart anymore, that she had taken it away. I untied my tie… Too stuffy was here and the music was too loud… I gulped down the beer from my glass, looked at my watch – I had time until tonight’s train to
The snow started falling in large flakes. I could see nothing, except the wall of snow in front me. It seemed that my life was ending, that there was nothing ahead of me, that only one gulp could satisfy my thirst, but I did not want to take the gulp and I would never take it.
I went back to the hotel, probably gathered my things. I did not remember it. In the rail station in the store, I bought a bottle of Vodka and got on the train… Wet bed sheet… Musty air… Tomorrow I would be in
My world was upside down, but at home, everything was as usual: my wife was knitting my sweater and going for chemotherapy at the hospital. It was horrible. I could not live here…I gasped… I tried to get drunk, but my health was not good enough… I could not destroy this brick wall between us. I often came back home after work later than usual and fell asleep on the sofa in the living room.
Once I came back home drunk and told her everything: about my mistress, that I was happy with her, all my love and my hatred. I did not choose words and sentences. I felt like a villain, but I could not stop. The dirty stream of my words flowed out of me. She went away to the other room and closed the door, answering nothing. And our life continued as usual almost. I understood that I must apologize, that I offended her too much. But I could not, could not look into her eyes, cold and scornful.
When would she finally finish my sweater?
Once she came back home from the hospital with a smile on her face. Today was the last day of her chemotherapy. It was a sunny Saturday, and the living room was filled with light. And her face filled with light and became powerful too.
“I won!” she said, “ I could live, not forever, but for a long time! You can not move the bookcase to the window after I die!” The cracks covered the ice of her struggle and big pieces of ice began to fall down from her. “Get out!” she smiled at me proudly.
What could I say to her? Nothing…Maybe she did not need my reaction. I was even glad that she could break this circle where we had to run for an impossibly long time. I was almost happy. I felt the big stone that I held on my shoulders suddenly fell down and I could straighten them and look her in the eyes. Her eyes became alien and I did not remember when it had happened. She was saying something else to me, but I stood in the middle of room and looked at her face. I felt that she already was afraid of her words. I did not hear her voice anymore.
I suddenly remembered when many years ago we had gone to a Bonsai Exhibition (at that time we sometimes had gone to places together). Rather, she had brought me there, because at that time I had known nothing about bonsai and about people who had grown these trees.
The exhibition was in the open air. The pottery bowls with small growing trees and groves that almost did not have soil and space for roots, stood on simple wooden tables. Some of them embraced pieces of rock covered with moss. We saw the trees whose trunks were partly dried or curved. They were not like flowers in the pots on the window-sill. They were real trees and would have become huge in nature. These trees needed sunlight, rain, wind, cold and snow like big trees. Their leaves became red and fell down in fall, emerged in the spring, green and sticky. The trees blossomed in summer and some of them even had fruits.
We had walked from one tree to the other and she told me history of bonsai. I listened to her, sometimes looked into her face and felt that I loved those small curls around her ears, her bit lip and slightly squinting eyes.
It seemed, she plunged into the world of bonsai that delighted and summoned her. It was her idol, better than Queen Elizabeth for British. This world was not strict, only simple, elegant and courageous. It was even difficult to imagine - during three hundred years, day by day, each of these trees was struggling with different elements and defeated them like life sometimes defeated death. The tree did not change during this struggle: not one unnecessary sprout, not one unnecessary root. We admired self-control and endurance of these trees.
She had talked about the first bonsai that had been brought from the wild mountains to home – these bonsai rarely survived, torn away from their natural habitat. It turned out that it was easier to grow bonsai at home. Only some patience and several tools were necessary for that: scissors - for cutting unnecessary roots and branches, pliers - to split the trunks, and hard wire – to deform or restrict growing branches and trunks. Also, it was necessary to sometimes change the soil, water them, and protect them from cold, heat, strong winds and snowfalls. These trees became very fragile and dependent on their habitat, but still seemed like an example of simplicity and courage. Sometimes, trees were sick or were cut more than necessary, sometimes they survived or died.
We did not see these people who cared for these trees their entire life, tried to create an illusion of eternity in these pottery bowls. We believed them, we believed that time stopped in these bowls, that eternity fell asleep there.
She admiringly stared at bonsai and I was suddenly afraid of her sparkling eyes. I was suddenly surprised how we could admire the courage of bonsai, admire an illusion. She did. And she did not worry that these small trees did not even imagine themselves real huge trees, real big world and strong snowfalls and winds. These trees did not imagine that they could reach the other trees with their branches or roots, reach the other bonsai, and touch the rock, covered with moss.
I stood in the room and stared at the alien face of the woman whom I had loved for a long time. I thought about bonsai being victorious over death. She turned out to be a talented learner, very talented. She became a good bonsai – not one unnecessary curl in her hairstyle, no carelessness in her clothes, no unnecessary words, emotions or thoughts, and, of course, tears. Strong outside and feeble inside, she was afraid of her words, but continued to tell me something else.
Her seeming courage already did not make me admire or be scared of her. I did not want her tears anymore. I would be afraid of it. She became alien to me. Near her I still felt like the same bonsai in the pottery bowl, but her words almost cracked my bowl, so one of my roots, still fresh and weak, began to grow outside through this crack, aspired to get to the real world. I did not feel hatred against this woman, I was thankful for her words. She accidentally could wake my sleeping courage.
I went away… I had loved her many years ago, but I didn't ever wear her prickly sweater. I have not seen her lately. I heard she is living far away and may be happy. Right now, I almost do not remember her face, her eyes, but I remember how I wished her to embrace me, that she would put her head on my shoulder and cry. But she seemed so strong, so strong…