The Women | Chapter 13 of 41 - Part: 1 of 4

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 10560 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER 3 : THE WAY THINGS BURN

Frank took to Svetlana as if she were his own, and during the first month of the new year it seemed to Olgivanna as if he were going out of his way to spoil the child—endless trips to the zoo, concerts, ice-skating parties on Lake Michigan, frankfurters, popcorn balls, candied apples on a stick—but that was just part of his charm. He never did anything by half measures. He was an enthusiast for life, in love with her and her daughter too, genuine and unself-conscious, though when they were seen on the street together people naturally mistook Svetlana for his granddaughter and that seemed to throw him off his stride. He was no grandfather, he would protest (though he was—his son John had a daughter of three or four, that much Olgivanna knew), but if he was living an illusion, strutting at her side like a young lover and reveling in it, why deny him? Svetlana could have been his daughter—she should have been, an exquisite long-limbed beauty of seven with much more of her mother than Vlademar in her, and she loved the attention, loved the treats and the piggy-back rides and climbing up beside him on the piano bench to pound the keys and sing “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and “Sweeter Than Sugar” along with him, her voice piping and probing even as his own mellow tenor held fast to the melody.

Olgivanna was aware that he was auditioning for the role—Daddy Frank, that was what her daughter called him, just let him step into the room and she’d jump up and spring for his arms, shouting out “Daddy Frank, Daddy Frank!”—and she gave him credit for it, for the headlong rush of his desire and commitment. He was a force of nature, that was what he was, an avalanche of need and emotion that swept all before it. And she was in love too, mad for him, for the pleasure he took in her and the pleasure he gave her in return (Vlademar was nothing compared to him, nothing, as appealing as a dishrag, a milksop, and for the rest of her life she would say that she didn’t know what love was—the physical act, the uniting of two bodies above and beyond the intertwining of their spirits—until she met Frank). And more than that, she was in search of something to hold on to—a cause, a modus vivendi, yes, but security and protection too—and he was there to provide a pair of broad shoulders19 when she most needed them—her savings were dwindling, her husband wasn’t doing much to help and it was awkward living at someone else’s pleasure, a guest in that overcrowded apartment in Chicago with people she’d never really liked to begin with. So when he asked her to come to Taliesin again, with her daughter, and not just for a weekend, but to move in and be part of the life of the place, of his life—she never hesitated.

This time the route was familiar to her. And if the countryside seemed bleaker than it had at Christmas when even the most dismal farmhouse was enlivened by a wreath at the door or a candle in the window, at least now she had Svetlana with her to keep her company. They had their sandwiches, milk for her daughter, coffee for her, Svetlana alternately chattering to her new teddy bear (“Eat your sandwich, Teddy; Pack your things; We’re going on a trip!”) and bent in concentration over a tracing book and a box of colored pencils Frank had bought her. Everything they had in the world was packed into a single steamer trunk in the luggage car somewhere behind them (and it wasn’t much—a few changes of clothes, books, letters, two porcelain dolls Svetlana couldn’t seem to exist without—because all this time they’d been living under Georgei’s regime and Georgei preached asceticism).20

“What’s it like, Mama?” Svetlana would ask every few minutes and she would try to summon the place—it wasn’t the château at Fontainebleau, outside of Paris; it was a rambling tawny stone bungalow of the Prairie Style on the outskirts of Spring Green, Wisconsin, and it would necessarily have to be self-sufficient in terms of its culture and amusements. “You’ll like it,” she said. “You will. It is—I don’t know—like a castle, only without the turrets.”

The pencils flew over the page, good high-quality tracing paper that wouldn’t tear through. Svetlana took a moment to finish what she was doing—red for the chimney of the house she was tracing, black for the smoke—and then she lifted her face. “What are turrets?”

“You know, towers—like in ‘Rapunzel, let down your hair.’ ”

“Like in France.”

“Yes, that is right. Like in France. Only this place—Daddy Frank’s place—doesn’t have any of them.”

“What does it have?”

She wanted to say it had beauty, it had genius, soul, spirit, that it was the kind of house that made you feel good simply to be inside it looking out, but instead she said, “It has a lake.”

“For ice-skating?”

“Mm-hmm. And in summer”—she tried to picture it, the fields come to life, the barn doors flung open and the cattle grazing, fireflies in the night, constellations hanging overhead in the rafters of the universe—“we can swim. And take the boat out. And fish too.”

“Are there ducks?”

“Sure there are. Geese too.” She was guessing now, running ahead of herself as the train rolled through the deep freeze of the countryside, twenty below zero, thirty below, the rivers like stone, the trees in shock, not a living thing moving anywhere in all that loveless expanse. “And swans. Swans that come right up to you and take the corn out of your hand. Remember those swans in Fontainebleau—the black ones?”

Svetlana stopped drawing now, two pencils—the green and brown—bristling from the knuckles of her left hand, the red one arrested over the chimney even as the roof spread wide to enclose the stick figures she’d drawn beneath it: two of them, just two, mother and daughter in matching triangular skirts. Her eyes went distant a moment and maybe she was seeing the swans, Lionel and Lisette—that’s what they’d named them, wasn’t it?—or maybe she was just tired. What she said was: “Are we almost there yet?”

 


Frank and Kameki were waiting on the platform to greet them, their breath streaming, hats cocked low, collars pulled up high. They leaned into the wind, their eyes searching the windows of the train as it slowed with a seizure of the brakes, and then Kameki turned aside and cupped his hands to light a cigarette and Frank started forward, the skirts of his heavy twill cape fanning and fluttering round the tight clamp of his riding breeches and the sheen of his boots. He was right there, so close she could have reached out and touched him, but somehow he didn’t see her, and the train slid past him before it jerked to a halt just up the line. Svetlana couldn’t contain herself. She sprang up on the seat and pounded at the window, calling out his name over and over until finally he looked up and saw them and his face changed. Olgivanna waved then, her heart lifting.

But there was something wrong, she could see that the minute she stepped off the train. Frank was as brisk and energetic as ever and he was wearing his broad welcoming smile as he helped first her and then Svetlana down from the train, and yet he seemed distant. He didn’t look at her, not right away, and that was strange. He bent instead to Svetlana, gave her something, a sucker, and asked if she’d had a pleasant trip, but Svetlana, the drawing book clamped under one arm and Teddy under the other, was shy suddenly and could manage only a whispered “Yes.”

A savage wind swept the platform, crushed leaves and bits of refuse skittering before it, the sky roiling overhead, and Olgivanna had a moment to take in the deserted streets and battened-down buildings of the town—village, hamlet—where she’d be spending the immediate future and maybe longer, much longer, before he did look at her. The engine exhaled with a long shuddering hiss of steam. Kameki hustled off after the baggage. And Frank finally did acknowledge her, but he didn’t take her in his arms, didn’t kiss her—instead he held out his hand for a firm handshake, his glove to hers, as if she were a business acquaintance or a distant relative . . . and still he hadn’t said a word, not a word, not hello or welcome or I’m glad to see you.

He dropped her hand then and leaned forward with a quick dip of his shoulders. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he said in a low voice, his breath caught up in the wind and gone. “It’s the neighbors. The papers. We can’t have a fuss.”

“Daddy Frank,” Svetlana cried, tugging at his scarf—and she’d recovered herself now, oriented to the cold and the moment of arrival and the town that wasn’t worth a second glance—“can we go see the swans?”

He seemed to wince at the sobriquet—Daddy Frank, Daddy—his eyes jumping from Svetlana to her and back. The smoke of the engine twisted in the wind and drove at them, harsh and poisonous. Something caught in her eye and she blinked. “Swans?” he repeated. “What swans?”

“I have told Svetlana”—and she was dabbing at her eye with her handkerchief—“that we would see the swans on the lake—and the ducks too.”

“Oh, yes, yes, the swans. Of course, honey, of course we will. But not now, not till summer. Now we have ice. You like ice, don’t you?”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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