NOT until he saw the silver swept-back jet with “Aeroflot” printed along its length in clean Cyrillic letters did Jeremy Pearl believe that he was really going to be free of Moscow. Two days of blessed relief. He mingled with the crowd at the boarding gate, under the morning sun, as cheerful and inconspicuous and perspiring as anyone there. The loudspeaker resounded pleasantly in his ears — the first pleasant loudspeaker he had heard in a month — calling flights to Kiev, Tpilisi, Tashkent, and finally his own, to Leningrad. Holiday mood swelled within him now, and gratitude toward the winged cylinder that was to lift him away. Really, these jets were splendid achievements.
Achievements: he winced at the word. After a month in Moscow, Jeremy had had more than enough of achievements, whether Ours or Theirs. A guide in the architecture section of the American Exhibition, he was weary of hearing his own voice praising the new glass skyscrapers along Park Avenue and weary of hearing the loudspeakers in Moscow grunting the latest news of pig-iron tonnage from the Donbas. Driving out to the airport that morning, he had even been afraid to comment on the towering sunrise for fear that the taxi driver would start praising it as an achievement; socialist, capitalist, empyrean — what difference did it make? So he had not begun a conversation, which was a pity, because he hadn’t yet met a Moscow cabby who lacked his malicious bit of gossip about Khrushchev, the upper set, or the black market. Without a word, the two of them had rattled past the miles of yellowish block housing and the summer fields, in a brown car curiously like a Chevrolet of the late 1940s. But now, wedged into the lively crowd boarding the plane, he insisted, most firmly, to himself: No, a jet is not an achievement, nor a symbol, nor a statistic. It is a thing, handsome and ingenious, designed for human needs. People — Russians — grew cheerful at the prospect of flying in one. He, too, would be cheerful.
As he strapped on his safety belt, he listened with pleasure to the two young officers across the aisle arguing about the exact number of minutes the flight would take until the first touch on Leningrad runway. They settled on a bet payable in vodka, and the nearer leaned over toward Jeremy to request his services as official timer.
They seemed to have no immediate sense of his being a foreigner; this pleased him, and the long college weekends spent memorizing Russian verbs passed through his mind in grim but satisfying review. He looked at his watch, saying, “Do you think I’ll have time to look at this again before we land?”
The nearer officer grinned in a self-congratulatory way all too familiar to Jeremy and said, “TU-104.” He had a metal tooth.
“TU-104.” Jeremy agreed. TU-104. He thought of all those Russians at the Exhibition asking him with a child’s goodnatured intensity how long Nixon’s flight to Moscow had taken and announcing that “our Kozlov” had flown from New York in “our TU-104” in eleven and a half hours. Then those metal-toothed grins, mixed with mock compassion, as if Nixon had obviously crawled all the way on his hands and knees, when Jeremy admitted to not knowing how many hours the American jet had taken. TU-104. Did the hundredth and thousandth person to ask an identical question really have a sense that the question still existed? Faces seemed to say so, crowding in upon him, eager or doubtful or hostile, workers’ or students’ or agitators’ faces, faces from Sverdlovsk and Kharkov and Tomsk, lined or blunt or not recently shaved, too many faces, for thirty-two days. It was not only his having worked too long in Moscow’s suspicious air, pressed into its bulbous chaos, that had tired Jeremy. It was being plunged into Mass Questions for the first time. He had been a bookish young man, and now he was battered every day by eight or ten hours of bragging and apologizing and arguing. On the second day he had remembered that these pouring crowds were composed of Russian people; by the fourth he could perceive only Soviet population units, endlessly repeating themselves, except for a very few, and all wanting to talk with heat about We and They.
Who cared, finally? At this heretical thought he glanced around guiltily — a new habit. The officers had stopped consulting the altimeter set like a clock into the cabin’s wall up front, because they were fascinated by Jeremy’s loafers. Soon they would want to talk, to be hospitable and jolly, to compare the number of cubic meters in their respective university dormitories — Moscow versus Harvard — to chat about all the things Jeremy once had thought he had come to the Soviet Union to hear. It would be decent, honest, We and They talk, urgent with peace and friendship until certain taboo words came up: governments, missiles, Hungary, Guatemala. So he turned, guiltily, to the window and watched the last traces of the city below. Even the white mass of the university disappeared, the world’s largest inhabited stone cake; and the Moscow River gave a last glint. The fields over which they were flying now were not checkered like those of Europe or Pennsylvania. They were broad and Russian and dull, fading away into vague forests.
HE WAS glad to be leaving Moscow for a while, since he certainly wasn’t the type to be exhibited to mobs. Look: a genuine, pudgy piece of Americana with thick glasses! He was tired of Russians barging up to him at the Exhibition, asking, “Who are you?” Or, rather, “What is your father?” What snobs these workers and peasants were! My father is an accountant, a man who keeps columns of figures for capitalists. Then the agitators’ superior smiles, full of implication: You see, Comrades, you needn’t discuss with this round young person; his family exploits the masses. Once, when an agitator had started the father routine with him, Jeremy had leaned over to a charming Russian girl in the crowd and whispered, “I’ll tell you a secret. My father is a nervous Jewish Marxist.”
“So is mine,” the girl answered, and winked. Then she vanished across the hot black pavement, beyond the crowds, her blue print summer dress flying after her. It had been a relationship of typical length for Jeremy Pearl, considering that he had liked the girl and she was attractive. For an hour afterward, he had been too rattled to make his brilliant explanation of America’s entry into Korea. Well, in thirty-two days and nights he had only succeeded in grazing a few lives, at best. And he was tired, furthermore, of the other American guides in their identical blue sweaters, all busy and young and admiring themselves in their roles of guides and taking notes. Shiny guide fish out of school water, flopping and gulping because there turned out to be so much conflict in the world. He congratulated himself on having severed connections from the jovial shoal that was also spending these two days of leave in Leningrad; he grinned to remember their faces when he had told them he was only going to the Hermitage anyway, to see some Lorenzo Lottos and Giorgione’s bright-red Judith. Let them have something to talk about on the train.
The stewardess was at his arm, watching him mumble to himself. She asked again, “Ne khotite fruktovoi vody?” The ubiquitous gas water, in heavy glasses. Do you know, he asked the girl silently, that the Soviets have achieved the world’s worst cherry soda? She jiggled the tray a little impatiently, but smiled at him. She had no make-up; she wore a simple white blouse; some wisps of her hair were rebellious. Who ever heard of a stewardess shaped like a dumpling? “Spasibo,” he said aloud, and took a glass.
As soon as the sweet gas water came out, so did the flies. They flew busy circles around the sun motes, buzzing and colliding as if the TU-104 were any Moscow restaurant. They dipped their hairy bodies into the gas water and tried to escape with their sugar bubbles before being swatted with rolled-up Pravdas. A passenger called on God to curse the Aeroflot. Wonderful, thought Jeremy, socialist self-criticism in action. Then the cabin door opened and an oldish man stepped out, wearing work trousers and an undershirt. “Citizens,” he said, “I want to explain about the flies.” An angry murmur went up. “We apologize,” the man said, brushing at his ear. “It is only during the hot months that we have this — inconvenience, but we fly such a full schedule with so many Comrades on vacation that there is no time to fumigate between flights. Of course, we do have fly swatter brigades — strong ladies,” and the man’s eye yielded a twinkle. “But they only get the flies unfit to survive. The clever ones all hide under the arms of the seats. Comrades, what can we do? It’s nature. Thank you.” He bowed and withdrew as the passengers clapped and hooted. The officers caught Jeremy’s eye and did begin a conversation on We and They, insects and airlines, which Jeremy enjoyed. The jet landed before they knew it, lowering past bogs and stunted fir trees, and he shook hands, exchanging wishes of peace and friendship for the ten thousandth time that summer. All three had forgotten the bet when they separated, relaxed and benign, into the midmorning. Jeremy was in an excellent mood for his visit to the Hermitage.
But he did not see the Hermitage that day. Soviet red tape wound around and around his singleness, forcing him to debate at every turn the Intourist assumption that because he was not a delegation, he did not exist. While groups from Iowa, Indonesia, and East Germany bustled by, he had ample time to study wall portraits of Lenin and Chinese dignitaries. Two hours to get a place in a limousine for the city; an hour and a half to find an overstuffed room at the Hotel Astoria; two hours to win a place at table in the hotel dining room and have cold salmon, tomato salad, and blinchiki brought to him.
IT WAS after four o’clock when he finally stood out in the cooling air. Too late for the museums, he wandered through the great northern spaciousness of Leningrad’s center, the planned streets and squares, the imitative but gracious palaces, neoclassical, rococo, peeling now but still defying the marshy Finnish winds with strange pastel greens and yellows, with porticoes and rows of columns; surely never so many columns erected anywhere else so far from the Mediterranean. The city still rose out of the brimming Neva waters like a mirage — “Peter’s creation.” Jeremy felt strangely at home. Beneath the cupola of the Isaac Cathedral and the admiralty building’s golden needle glinting toward the oblique sun, he walked through a shadow into the European past, when the city’s delegations had been Quarenghis and Rastrellis invited to design an architecture complete for their hosts. He let himself into the city of Peter and Catherine, of summer’s white nights in Pushkin and Dostoevsky, of winter’s three o’clock sunsets in Gogol. He refused to draw gray conclusions from the squalor pressing on all sides; if there was squalor side by side with dignity, let it be called picturesque, for he did not want to make decisions. It was New York and Peiping that required decisions: what have men wrought there? And, of course, Moscow, with its awful momentousness in the air, the ringing of the bell at the Kremlin gate to announce the silent blind limousines swooshing forth into the emptiness of Red Square. But in Leningrad, Peter’s town, the momentousness had passed by. At least for a traveler.
He whistled softly as he strolled under a huge coffered archway into the square fronting the Winter Palace. The square was immense beyond belief, as if miles of marshland — half the frontier of Finland — had been drained and paved and bordered with a neat gardenlike set of palaces. The shaft of the Alexander monument stood stunted amid the whelming space. Toy Russian figures walked singly or in twos at drab intervals. Jeremy’s imagination raced; he was standing in the unfillable Palace Square he had read about: “The first time there is a crowd in Petersburg, the city will be crushed . . . a crowd would mean a revolution.” He stood alone, he and the Alexander column and the few toy figures, but in his mind the carriages rolled up to the green Winter Palace behind horses supple and glossy under the lanterns; the bejeweled and haughty — Speranskis and Karenins and Volkonskis — poured out, dwarfed by the immensities. And tiny Trotsky mastering the raging square with words.
A sudden wind swept across from the Neva. He put his hands deep into his pockets and slouched off across the square, now bleak as a tundra. He had almost reached the archway again and was beginning to wonder what to do next when he found a crisply folded paper in his right pocket. It was obviously not a ruble note, because all his rubles came in wads or sheaves. He put on his horn-rimmed glasses and held the paper close to his eyes in the dimming light. “To Elizaveta” was written in a cursory American hand. Elizaveta? Yes, the note from that tall boy, Bob What’shis-name, who had come to the exhibition from the Vienna Youth Conference via the north. “Met this great girl in Leningrad, you see? Speaks English like a dream. Want her to drop down here before I go to Tashkent. Listen, get this note to her when you’re up there, will you, Jerry? Be a friend. She may introduce you to some interesting people; you could use some —” Thinking of Bob What’s-his-name, Jeremy started to crumple the note and look for a sewer. But he reconsidered. The girl’s address was on the Nevsky Prospect, quite far from the river. He could take a slow twilight stroll along the Nevsky and talk to Gogol. With luck, the address would be hard to find, so that his evening would be almost accounted for. Then, back to the hotel: caviar, hot tea with extra sugar, and to bed. Tomorrow, the Hermitage all day.
“Just step out onto the Nevsky, and it already smells of strolling,” said Gogol to Jeremy. “True, true.” he answered. The Prospect was still wide, lively, and clean, at least as far as he could tell in the dusk. Strollers there were: the men in sandals and bell-bottomed trousers, women in neat jackets over print dresses, children in sailors’ outfits. Behind him, the admiralty spire had just lost its high tip of sunlight, while in the government cheese and wine shops the lights were coming on, splashing the patient queues. People were arm in arm, and Jeremy was with Gogol.
BY THE time he found the address, the Prospect had peacefully deteriorated. Elizaveta’s buildinghad five stories, poor and damp-looking, in a neighborhood that seemed still to be quivering from the Nazi siege. Jeremy turned into an open entranceway leading to a series of murky inner courtyards. He decided not to ask anyone for directions to the right staircase, because he had no idea of the mood of the Leningrad authorities toward Americans paying calls. Bob What’s-hisname, who didn’t speak a word of Russian, must have visited the house. But, still — Jeremy stumbled awhile in suffocating darkness. The shutters on the inner courtyard were all pulled, although it was still August. Pallid electric bulbs burned in the entryways; someone was practicing a Rachmaninoff prelude on an inadequate piano. Finally he climbed a dark staircase, toward the fourth floor. The wrought-iron railing wobbled in his hand. Doors along the way, two to a landing, were incredibly decrepit, with some unheard-of kind of stuffing falling out of them as if they were old quilts. The place was impregnated with a sour smell, a mingling of cabbage, sweat, bad plaster, and nineteenth-century rainfalls. Past and present blurred in Jeremy’s mind again. Gogol, quite uninvited, warned him that if they were frying fish in the kitchen, there would probably be so much smoke that he wouldn’t even be able to see the cockroaches. “Take your big nose and go away.” Jeremy said. He knocked on the door, much too loudly.
After a moment, the door opened one third, and a crumpled old face looked up at him. Another old lady, less crumpled than the first, stood in the background. “Dobryi vecher,” he said, trying to greet both of them. “I’d like to speak to Elizaveta if I may.” They shuffled away, leaving the door as it was, and he heard one of them saying “a cultured young man. . .” Jeremy could see an icon of the Virgin and an upholstered couch shaped like a donkey’s back. Then a slender girl stood in his line of sight — rather tall, with an unfinished thought on her face and a curl to the corners of her eyes and mouth that gave her a smile even if she wasn’t smiling. As she was not now. She wore the usual Russian print dress; her summer-brown hair was braided. In one hand she had a folder of papers and a pencil imprisoned by her thumb. She waited, neutrally. “Yes,” she said, “what is it, Comrade?”
“I’m sorry to trouble you when you are working,” Jeremy said, “but here is a note for you, from an American named Bob — ” She grabbed not the note but Jeremy’s wrist, and pulled him inside, slamming the door.
“Are you an American?” she whispered, in English, looking at his face and then at his loafers.
“Yes, I am. I work at the Exhibition in Moscow.”
“Then don’t you know you should not have come here? It is very dangerous. Has anyone seen you? Oh God, that stupid — ” Elizaveta still seemed to be smiling because of the strange curve to her face.
“No one saw me,” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think — ”
“Speak Russian,” Elizaveta snapped. “Those old witches will have a fit.” The two ladies were sewing in a corner by the same lamp, with the inevitable fringed orange shade. One room for all: there was a bed in another corner, probably Elizaveta’s, because a lamp-lit writing desk was next to it, and a small glass-enclosed bookcase with standard Russian authors. A cot was made up near the couch, and a wooden table with a bowl of cucumbers stood in the middle of the room. A second golden icon, of Saint George, and a print of old Petersburg hung on the walls. Jeremy started to explain, in Russian, that Bob had given him no information at all about the Leningrad situation, but the more crumpled lady crept up, pulling her black shawl close, and said, “It is time for him to go.” Jeremy edged toward the door.
“But maybe he is not ready to go,” Elizaveta said angrily, taking hold of his sleeve.
“Liza,” the old lady croaked, “your foreign friends are going to ruin us. Especially if they are so idiotic — ”
“He’s not my friend, and it’s not his fault. He just arrived from Moscow and knows nothing about — ”
“It’s time for him to go!” said the other lady. She was frantic. “To go!”
Jeremy stood, miserably. Elizaveta was still holding his sleeve. She looked at him with quick sympathy. “This is terrible for you. You were only trying to do a favor.”
“To go! To go!” wailed the second lady from her corner, as the first crossed herself, mumbling.
“Oh, shut up!” Elizaveta said. She threw on a brown cloth coat, took Jeremy’s arm, and steered him onto the stairs. “Let’s go for a walk, Kolya,” she said loudly, as if to an audience on the stairs. “Toward your brother’s.”
THE door slammed behind them. She propelled him out through the courtyards and onto the night-filled Nevsky without letting him say a word. He was still burning with embarrassment when they had joined the strollers going back toward the river.
“Please forgive me,” he stammered. “I certainly didn’t mean — It was the last thing —”
“Don’t mind the old ladies. The less they have to live for, the more they worry about it.”
She was not looking at him. He considered saying, “I apologize. Deeply. Good-by,” but she still had an automatic hold on his arm. “Who are they?” he asked instead.
“Who are who? Oh, them. My grandmother and her friend. I think the friend is her grandmother, but they’re ashamed of it. We all love each other madly.”
“I don’t see very well in the dark,” Jeremy said. “Do you mind telling me whether you are smiling or not?”
“Perhaps. I remain, however, inscrutable.”
True. He had no idea whether or not her anger was still near the surface.
“My name is Jeremy,” he said. “You know, something like the prophet.” He had pronounced it in English.
“Of course, Ieremia. My grandmother knows all the prophets by heart, which accounts for the wisdom of her approach to life. I am so furious at her, and you, and Bob.”
A block of silence. Jeremy said, “What do you do?”
“I am a translator. Which reminds me. You know, Ieremia, that you speak a very clean, exact Russian. If I were not so mortified over this evening, we could perfect it. Why did you learn Russian so well?”
“I like it.”
“Are you a spy?”
“Yes.” This time Jeremy knew that she was smiling, because they passed under a street lamp — three high bright globes in the pawnbroker’s pattern — and her teeth flashed a little. Suddenly she pushed him into a doorway and said, “Well, let me show you how to be a good spy. First, take off that stupid tie. Come on.” It was his regular striped traveling tie. But he took it off. “Now open your top button and put out your shirt collar — wide, like this — over your jacket. Good. Now off with those glasses. Too American. Lean toward me when I take your arm, put a smug expression on your face — excellent — and we have an ambitious young Soviet engineer out with his solemn translator friend. Perfect couple.”
They walked a while more, into the old Petersburg section, across the Griboyedov Canal and past the former Kazan Cathedral, now an antireligious museum. He was afraid to ask questions that would show how little he knew of the city. He cleared his throat as if in preparation for an important remark. “The streets of Leningrad,” he said, “are very clean.”
“Of course they are,” she said. “We have a program of compulsory-voluntary immaculateness.”
“You mean one can’t even have dirt if one wants to? One’s own small pile of dirt?”
“Really, you bourgeoisie have such decadent ideas.”
“But I represent the Western democracies,” said Jeremy. “I am shocked that you Russians cannot have freedom of dirt.”
“Citizen Little Man, we have greater goals in mind. Your obsolete private dirt will have to go. You may share all the rich collective dirt you want at the kolkhoz.”
“You know,” Jeremy said, “this being a Little Man is not comfortable. They chased me down these very streets with bronze hoofs. They stole my greatcoat after I went without tea to save for it. Now they take away my pile of dirt. What a life.”
“Ah, Little Man, I sympathize. They took away your Czar.”
“They took away my nobility,” he said.
“They took away your room.”
“They took away my family.”
“And now they want your dirt,” said Elizaveta.
“And now they want my dirt. After midnight I come out alone on the Nevsky and drop cigarette butts in my favorite gutters. But in the morning — ”
“A socialist triumph.”
“Communist repression. One night I left old copies of Izvestia everywhere.”
“Vicious capitalist espionage!”
“Courageous democratic action. But what’s the use?”
“None,” said Elizaveta. “Any other questions? Feel free to ask questions. The people must be educated.”
“That’s true. You must catch up to and overtake America.”
“But you must meet the Soviet challenge, economically, militarily — ”
“Who knows?” Jeremy said.
“Who knows?” agreed Elizaveta.
They had reached the river. In the glisten of the fast water, lights from eighteenth-century windows threatened to move downstream but held their own, at the last minute, against the current. Jeremy put on his glasses. He and Elizaveta laughed, in great relief, delighted with each other.
There were few cars along the embankment. Elizaveta’s face was in the darkness, but her eyes, like the river, caught little points of reflected light. Jeremy imagined that he could still see the unfinished thought on her face and could feel in her slenderness the pathos of all the slim girls and admirable ladies who filled his memory from the pages of Turgenev and Tolstoy. A wave of feeling surprised him, a frisson down through his ankles; he felt that he was shaken in a confusion as to who or where he was, where the pages of his imagination ended and where he had actually begun to stand in the night above the River Neva with this girl close to him.
Elizaveta extended a slim finger and touched Jeremy’s right cheek. “Little Person.” she said. She began to trace patterns along his cheekbone and the soft center below it.
”I see that you understand very well who I am,” he said. He took off his glasses again and shoved them into his jacket pocket. Elizaveta’s finger continued to drift across his face. The night became a blur. He reached his hand through the night toward the place where he remembered her face to be, saying, “But you are an Aleksandra or a Natasha.”
“No,” she said, “no!”, and she pressed his palm full against her face. “I’m a Little Person too, the least in the world.” He could feel her face moving against his palm as she spoke. “Only the Little Persons are still alive.” He moved closer to her and heard her words as whispers of breath against his ear. “Ieremi,” — she had softened the name — “the others are all dead. They want us to be dead with them. They don’t want us to feel what it is to be alive.”
Suddenly he felt her lips on his, with a terrible hunger. They kissed again and again and held to each other, afraid to let go; he felt her hands pressing at his temples. Before they parted, the glistening Neva waters that had passed them at the beginning had long since flowed into the Gulf of Finland. Passers-by, ever fewer, smiled at them. The two leaned against the stone parapet, watching the swift wide waters that came newly on, and they hardly knew where to begin finding words again. Time was short between them. They had no place to go, Jeremy thought; it was already late. Tomorrow was the important word in their lives. “Tomorrow,” he said, just as Elizaveta hesitantly asked, “What are you going to do tomorrow?”
SHE had instructed him in the art of meeting invisibly during daylight. He was to find her in the morning crowd near the antireligious museum — there was always a crowd near the antireligious museum, which had a jolly waxworks exhibition of bad priests and obscurantists — and then he was to pass through her field of vision, walking slowly. She would follow him down the Nevsky at a gradually decreasing distance until they were side by side. “Fading together,” she called it; a way of meeting “questionable human beings” without there having been a place where so-and-so was seen greeting so-and-so. That night, as he fell asleep, Jeremy wondered, a little petulantly, why he hadn’t learned this before, until he realized that she would be the first Russian he was going to meet privately in daytime.
In his room at the Astoria, he awoke to sunlight on the ornate mirror with another start of confusion as to where and who. He put on his glasses. The room was Russified Victorian. Gilt, fringed cushions, angels carved from heavy wood, furniture resting on thumping big lions’ feet. He hadn’t even learned her last name. In fact, he couldn’t remember what she looked like. There was a sense of her cleanliness and slenderness in the dusk, her words and touch; delicious, but he would never recognize her in a crowd. It was over. Typical, typical, Jeremy muttered as he pulled on his clothes.
He ran in terror from the beaming fat waitress who wanted him to sit down for three hours over tea in a glass and fried eggs. In the square he bought two sweet rolls from a girl in a white smock at a pushcart, and he half trotted, munching, toward the meeting place. The Nevsky Prospect was streaming with people on their way to office work, looking almost as wilted as their old brief cases. The sun was hot. Jeremy arrived at the semicircular colonnade of the former Kazan Cathedral a half hour early, and he was just about to find twenty reasons why it was so unfortunate an imitation of St. Peter’s when he saw her. She was unmistakable, as slim and fresh as he remembered, with her light-brown hair brushed back, a touch of lipstick. She was wearing a neat sweater buttoned up the front and even a string of glass beads. She looked through him as if he were one of the wax statues inside. Oh, yes, of course: Jeremy remembered and walked obediently away toward the looming yellow admiralty building.
In a moment he felt an arm slip into his and he smelled lavender soap. She laughed into his ear. “Good morning, gospodin spy. What’s the password?”
Jeremy said, “No answer, Elizabeth,” which makes a foolish rhyme in Russian, no better than See you later, alligator. But she seemed satisfied. Now that it was true that he was going to spend the day with a marvelous Russian girl, he decided not to waste it. Daytime: sociological information; evening: love. Accordingly, he began his interrogation. “I don’t even know your last name,” he said.
“I don’t have one,” she answered. “Or, rather,
I did have one until the Revolution, but they took it away. They renamed me Steelworks. Steelworks in the name of Kirov. But you can call me just Liza.” She used ty — “thee” — with him, which threw Jeremy even more off balance, since he had learned all his conversational Russian in the polite form. He stumbled twice, trying to begin a sentence. Elizaveta laughed again. “You’re pretending to have trouble so that we ll have to speak English. Well, we won’t. It’s too inconvenient, and too — cold.”
They never got to the Hermitage. Lorenzo Lotto, Elizaveta said laughing, Jeremy would always have with him; for her, he had only one day. She wanted to go where they could “talk all the time and chase each other and run in the sun.”
They were in a taxi, driving through scanty landscape toward Peterhof. The Gulf of Finland, seeming frigid and forlorn even in August, lay to their right, with Kronstadt’s bristle of cranes in the distance. To the left, the birch-scattered flatness never blessed by nature and too recently blasted by the siege. Charred hulks of the old estate houses stood on slight rises of the ground. Jeremy would have asked the cab driver for his memories of the war if Elizaveta had not assumed a Ukrainian accent, pronouncing all her g’s like h’s, and told the driver they were both summer vacationers in town for two days. She also introduced Jeremy as a young Party official from Albania who really knew Russian quite well. The driver pretended great interest in Albania, so Jeremy gave a report on conditions there, stressing agricultural problems and Muslim reaction, while Elizaveta ran her finger up and down his back. After the driver had thanked Jeremy for the tip, he pointed good-naturedly. “You’re not from Albania, Comrade, and she is not Ukrainian.”
“Quite right,” Jeremy said. “I’m American.” This sent the driver into gales of laughter.
He said, “And she, I suppose, is also American, from Hollywood [Golivud]. And I’m from Hawaii [Gavai], Very warm in Gavai.” He was still muttering happily to himself about Hawaii as he drove off.
The two spent their bright hours in the park at Peterhof under the high gross majesty of the palace on its hill — the only hill within miles — with the splash of all its fountains and the blue marine canal gathering their waters to flow into the sea, that northern finger of sea for which eighteenth-century czars were so grateful. Elizaveta described the rubble left by the siege, and pointed with pride to the restorations, complete even to Tritons and Venuses descending in a brilliant gilded cascade. Suddenly she said to Jeremy, “You don’t like them, do you?”
“Well — ” he said. The restorations were too garish; the glittering yellow sculpture reminded him of golf trophies.
“You realize, my dear boy, what the people went through here and what it means to have this place as theirs again?”
Jeremy looked worried. He was afraid he would start spouting about art and society. “Poor Ieremi.” Elizaveta said, touching his chin. Her mood had changed again. “I’m not going to make you argue. This is a day for Little Persons.”
And it was. They ran through the parks. They splashed in every fountain capable of being splashed in, bought ice cream from saintly ladies in white, and then they were shivering together at the prow of the excursion boat back to Leningrad across the cold gray wash of the gulf. The city was a long blur ahead of them, except where the golden needle of the Petropavlovsk fortress caught a late gleam of sun and cauterized the dimness.
IT WAS the edge of night when they were in front of the stolid Astoria Hotel, certainly not to say good-by, but not knowing where to go. Jeremy was saying, “Elizaveta, come up to my room. It’s quiet and private. You’ll love it; it has a lamp with an orange fringed shade and a picture of a nice peasant girl gathering something — radishes, I think — that makes her very happy.”
“Oh, Ieremi, I want to very much. More than you want me to, I think. But it’s impossible.”
“Don’t radishes make you happy?”
Elizaveta smiled, perhaps. “Very. And so do you. But if they find me in a foreigner’s room at the Astoria, I’m through. I have a bad name already.” He raised his eyebrows, but she said, “No, we have no time to go into that. Anyway, our public crimes are personal matters. Don’t meddle. I haven’t asked you how you treat Negroes.”
“I promise to salute every Negro I meet if you will come to my room.”
“Ieremi, it would be horrible for you, too. Tass would give it bigger propaganda right now than a new Sputnik. How they would love to find an American lecher spreading his poisons around the Soviet masses. I would have to testify that you lured me with visions of Wall Street. What would your mother think?”
“You’re playing with me, aren’t you?”
“Playing with you? Do you have any idea what this game may cost? Do you really think — ? Oh, never mind. Next thing, you will accuse me of selfpity, then flightiness. Go ahead. I’ll give you ten minutes for the whole list.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I always seem to be sorry. I suppose I wanted to be serious for a moment.”
“For seriousness we definitely have no time, sweet friend.” Elizaveta took his hand in both of hers and pulled him toward the hotel entrance. “Come on,” she said, “we can have some wine and we can dance upstairs in the ballroom. Excellent cure for seriousness.”
“But won’t that be just as — inconvenient? For you?”
“No, no. It’s so crowded and obvious that they will never notice us. Just don’t forget to be one half the perfect Soviet couple. Smug expression. And let me speak most of the time — which I would probably do anyway.”
While they were riding up in the elevator, Elizaveta whispered, “What Russian word can you pronounce most easily?”
“Radishes,” Jeremy whispered.
“Good. If anyone official wants to talk to you, just say ‘radishes.’ ”
The Astoria ballroom. High ceiling, shiny waxed floor, small round tables packed in as tightly as salmon eggs, palm fronds hanging helplessly, corks popping from mediocre Georgian wine, an eight-piece band, Guy Lombardo style, pot-shaped middle-class couples pushing each other anxiously back and forth to a series of variations on Moscow Evenings.
“Lord,” Jeremy whispered. “They’re all from the Bronx.”
The headwaiter seated them at a table with an imperturbably well-nourished, fortyish couple. He wore a dark suit and a wide tie with a pattern that looked like watermelons; she had a frilly white blouse and too much perfume. She was slicing a Kiev cutlet that oozed with butter, and he was toying with the fatty embroidery of his poached sturgeon. “They really don’t know how to play dance music here,” she was saying. “In Paris it’s different. We’ve been to Paris,” she said, turning to Elizaveta. And then to Jeremy, “Don’t you think so?”
“Radishes,” Jeremy said.
“Pardon?” said she.
But Elizaveta was already on her feet, saying, “You know, Kolya, I don’t think we have time for dinner after all. Your brother will be waiting.”
They were out in the street, looking up at the tall baroque dome of the Isaac Cathedral. “God save us from the Astoria ballroom,” said Jeremy. Elizaveta seemed thoughtful. “Do you know anything about the Bronx?” he asked.
“No, unless you mean those wild horses in your kovboi stories.”
Jeremy locked Elizaveta in a tremendous bear hug. “Oh, absurd, absurd,” he said, in English.
“I don’t know exactly what you mean,” said Elizaveta in Russian, “but it’s true.” She struggled to free her arms, and then put them around his neck.
They clung together. This time Jeremy felt desire run through him like summer lightning. He tried to kiss the corners of her lips, where the smiles were. Elizaveta whispered and began to touch his face with soft kisses. “Oh, I don’t care,” she said. “Come on. Pay another visit to my apartment. This time I invite you.”
“But — ”
She put her finger over his lips. “No one will notice. You look completely Russian now. I’ve ruined you.”
The last hint of summer dusk hung on and on, as it does in the north. They leaned close, strolling down the wide Nevsky again. Finally he asked, “Will the grandmothers be out?”
“Of course not. They are much too old.”
“But, couldn’t they drop into the communal kitchen or something?” He heard his voice growing plaintive.
“No, no, no, they always eat early.” Elizaveta laughed softly. “They won’t mind us. They’ll sit in the far corner and turn their backs and bend over their sewing. They have an incredible amount of sewing to do.”
“But, still — ”
“Oh, Ieremi, dear boy, it won’t be embarrassing. We just have to be a little quieter than you are used to being in the Western democracies. Unless you can solve our housing within ten minutes.” They walked on in silence, past the dark colonnade of the antireligious museum where they had “faded together” in the morning. Elizaveta clung still more closely to his arm. “You’ll see, Ieremi. It won’t be so bad. We’re all used to it.”
“Well, I’m not.” He tried to sound goodnatured.
“But that’s just the way it is.”
“The way it is?” he asked, in desolation. “Is that the way it was with Bob What’s-his-name and every other What’s-his-name?”
She stopped dead. “What do you want of this world?” she asked, coldly. “I suppose you think you’ve said something cruel. It’s worse than that; it’s stupid. Sometimes I think you Americans are corrupt. You always must own things. That’s the only relationship you can understand.” She turned away from him.
Oh, God, thought Jeremy, here it is, the inevitable.
But Elizaveta led him instead to a street lamp, and she took his worried face in her hands. “Ieremi,” she said, “timid boy, accept what I am offering. Love is the one thing here that is not complicated. Perhaps with you it is just the opposite, but now you are chez nous and you must do as we do. Agreed?” His throat would not let him say the word. “Agreed?” asked Elizaveta.
“Yes, agreed,” he said.
They walked along through the murk-filled inner courtyards, up the cabbaged stairway with its doors waning in decrepitude, Jeremy playing silent word games to ease his embarrassment: I’m always inhibited when the room is inhabited. He admired the slope of Elizaveta’s slim back as she put the key into the lock, without making a sound, and then they were in the modest room with its golden Saint George and the Virgin, and swaybacked couches, sets of Tolstoy and Chekhov, orange-fringed lamps, and the one solid table with its bowl of cucumbers. Both the old ladies shook hands with Jeremy, addressing him as “young man.” The more crumpled asked him whether he would like a cucumber, and the other began to suggest, somewhat indirectly, that since he was a foreigner it was getting to be time for him to go. But when they saw that Elizaveta was stretching a brown blanket like a curtain in front of her bed, suspending it from the book cabinet and a clothing rack, reaching up on tiptoe with her arms upraised, the two ladies smiled and nodded and patted Jeremy’s arm. Then they bundled off toward their sewing corner. Russian women. Elizaveta accepted him quietly into the deep shadows she had created, where love is the one thing not complicated.
THEY were walking, hand in hand, down the gloom of the Nevsky’s tag end, toward the Moscow Station. It was late in the evening. The Red Arrow was leaving Leningrad in half an hour, and Jeremy had to be on it in order to stand at his post when the Exhibition floodgates opened at eleven the next morning. Empty buses ground by. “I haven’t even asked you about your family,” he said.
“Don’t. We are Russians. When we aren’t busy killing each other, someone rolls in the artillery from Europe. Only my brother and I were left after the siege. He went out to grow corn in Siberia. And I stayed on.”
“Oh, I still love poor Leningrad. I hold the grandmothers’ hands, and go to concerts, and wait for people like you.” Elizaveta leaned fondly against his arm for a moment. Then she said, “Ieremi, the station is no place for a Russian to be with a foreigner either. We shall have to fade apart.”
“Nu ladno. Well” — he hesitated — “all right. But when can we meet again?”
She shook her head. “Ieremi, I’m in trouble as it is.”
He tried to slow the pace of their walk. He closed his eyes and leaned more heavily toward Elizaveta. He began to hum. Then he said, “I suppose you admire all your Russian Romeo and Juliet music — Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky.”
She laughed, too quietly. “You’re not very subtle, you know. I suppose I like the Prokofiev, somewhat. But I love Mozart, like you. Did you forget already, stupid boy?” He opened his eyes. They were in a blurred square with a monument, and the Moscow Station bulked ahead.
“Liza,” he said, “where will we be after we fade apart? Tell me.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, my friend. Where we were before, it seems. Nowhere.”
“You just don’t understand!” he burst out. “Maybe you can be brave like a Turgenev woman, and maybe you think life is fine with me because our police don’t follow me at night. Maybe you think a moment’s love is the solution for everything.”
“Please, Ieremi! Please, please! We’ve had something. Isn’t that more than nothing? Who are we to — ?” She could not go on. She burst into wild tears, amazing him, and kissed his face. Then she was gone, running, while he still leaned toward the place where she had been, as a stalk leans after the wind.
Steam rose in clouds past the windows; a samovar in the train buffet was softly brewing. Through the station a loudspeaker echoed, announcing the departure of the Red Arrow for Moscow. Its voice bulged with the tedious Soviet assumption that the departure of every train will be welcomed by history.