Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Cannot Kill a Swan

I'm excited to bring you today's story, an excerpt from a historical novel in the style of the Russians called You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. The author, Carrie-Ann Brownian, is a self-proclaimed Russophile and writes primarily 20th century historical fiction and dabbles in sci-fi. The excerpt she's sharing with us is from the first chapter of her novel, titled "Storm on the Horizon." The novel tells the story of Lyuba, who after rejecting the marriage proposal of Ivan, tells him to pretend their romance never happened. Hope you enjoy!

Storm on the Horizon 
(from You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan)
By Carrie-Anne Brownian

That afternoon, while Lyuba sets out on the long walk home, Ginny runs away. They don’t see him again until they’re in front of Lyuba’s house. Lyuba’s jaw drops when she sees him getting out of a van. She recognizes several of the children at the windows as children of neighborhood Bolshevik families, including Georgiya Yuriyevna Stalina, the top pupil in Ginny’s class.

“You were in a car driven by Them!” she admonishes him. “Where’s your loyalty to your own family? We support the Tsar as Christ on Earth while you cavort around with the people who coerced him into abdication! You can go in yourself. We won’t hold the door for traitors.”

“Was it true what Ginny said at lunch?” Ivan demands as they go inside. “That you let Borís put his arm around you yesterday?”

Lyuba steps into the living room with him and shuts the door while Boris is pulling out another bowl of egg salad and Ginny is helping himself to cookies. “How the hell many times do I have to tell you our relationship is over? We had a wonderful month together, but thank God my mother was able to get me to see sense before things went too far. Just because I still love and wish I could marry you doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for me. I need a man like Boris, without lofty ambitions and silly romantic dreams about starting our own farm. Do you realize how poor we’d be if we left everything behind and started all over again in a foreign country? It might take ten or twenty years to save up enough money for that mythical farm you’re always talking about! And having nine children on top of that? I wasn’t made to be a wife and mother, and even if I did want that, you know full well what my degenerate father did to me. I love how you treated me so special, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to stay forever with a man who treated me so wonderfully instead of abusing me. I’m too used to being hurt and abused by men. The sooner you get it through your head that I’m no longer your girlfriend, the better.”

“But I love you. You’re the only girl I’ve ever kissed, held, caressed, seen naked, slept in the same bed as, or said ‘I love you’ to. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“This is the twentieth century, Ivan. A new world order is coming. Soon it’ll be seen as laughably old-fashioned to expect to marry the first and only person you ever have feelings for or do those things with. But we’re still best friends, even if we’re no longer a couple.”

“I don’t want to go back to being just friends. I want you to be my wife, the mother of my children, my lover, my partner in running a household, my Mrs. Koneva, the one I grow old with, the one I’ll one day spend eternity next to six feet underground!”

“There you go again with your silly romantic speeches and attempts to guilt me into being with you! Now I’m going to go back into the kitchen to have something to eat. I think I just heard something break, which can only mean Boris owes my mother more money.”

“Look.” Ivan pulls a box out of his schoolbag. “I made you chocolates last night. My mother and I thought making chocolates would take our minds off my father having just been arrested. I thought you’d like it if I gave you some extras. Here, open your mouth. I’ll feed a few to you.”

“What am I, an invalid? And since when have I ever been the type to be won over by trinkets like flowers and chocolates?”

“You’re just confused because of everything that’s been going on in the country, on top of everything you’ve been through at the hands of your father and the dastardly campaign your mother waged to coerce you into jilting me. But I know this isn’t the real Lyuba talking. The real Lyuba still loves me.”

“You know I do. You also know my reasons for why we can’t ever be husband and wife. God, that astrology book was right when it said Cancer is the most sensitive sign, so easily-wounded, and like a leech on its love interest.”

“Then why don’t we sit down on the davenport right now. Just let me kiss you once and see if you don’t react to it.”

Lyuba involuntarily smiles, then turns her head.

“You see? Even that suggestion made you happy and excited. I know you’re still in love with me, and I’m going to wait as long as I have to for you to sort things out in your head and come back to me. Why don’t you come here and let me do it anyway. Maybe that’ll make you change your mind and come back to me faster.”

The door opens just as they’ve sat down and are leaning towards one another. Ivan jumps up when he sees Lyuba’s mother and aunt, and Lyuba quickly gets up and goes into the kitchen, hoping they didn’t see anything.

Her eyes fill with the sight of Boris scraping egg salad off the floor, broken glass all over the floor. At least this means her mother will be distracted from what she might’ve seen when she came in.

“Boris Aleksandrovich Malenkov!” Mrs. Zhukova shouts. “Another broken bowl?”

“Ginny spilled his water and I tripped on the puddle. I wasn’t about to let good egg salad go to waste, so I decided to eat it off the floor.”

“Listen, if all you think about is food, then you can no longer come to my house after school!" Lyuba says.

“Have some sympathy! My parents got taken away. They were gone when I came home from your house yesterday.”

“My own father was arrested too, and do you see me acting like that?” Ivan asks.

“This bowl was more expensive than the last one,” Mrs. Zhukova says. “I’d say it was at least a hundred rubles, since it was fancy glass. If your parents left enough money behind, you can use that to pay for it.”

“You’re telling Boris to steal money from his own imprisoned parents?” Mrs. Herzena asks.

“Why not? They won’t miss it, and if it bothers him so much, he can always pay them back when they’re together again.” Mrs. Zhukova sees the box in Iván’s hand. “What’s that, a present for Lyuba? You know I don’t approve of you as a suitor for my daughter.”

“Vanya and his mother made chocolates last night,” Lyuba says. “He wanted to give me some extras.”

Mrs. Zhukova sniffs. “That’s another thing I don’t like about you. My daughter needs a husband who engages in masculine pursuits only, like repairing machinery, fixing up the house, hunting, and gambling. She doesn’t need some pansy who likes cooking and baking.”

“I like cooking. There’s nothing wrong with a man who knows how to cook. A husband and wife are supposed to take care of each other; one spouse shouldn’t be forced to only do certain things. That’s not an equal relationship. Sure some things are women’s domain, like childcare, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some things traditionally associated only with women.”

“Are you sure you weren’t damaged by forceps or dropped when you were born? Or is this part of the sickness that caused your left-handedness?”

“Many famous artists, musicians, and writers were lefties. It’s a special gift from God bestowed only on select few people.” Lyuba takes Ivan’s left hand and lovingly caresses it, remembering how the teachers used to leave marks and bruises on it because he refused to switch. “And God doesn’t make mistakes.”

“No, God never makes mistakes,” Ivan says, gazing at Lyuba. “There’s always a reason for everything, even hardships, even when mere mortals can’t figure out why we can’t get our happy ending handed to us right away. Maybe it’ll make us appreciate our happy ending more, if we have to earn it.”

1 comment:

  1. Harsh, powerful prose. I think I will read it better once we finish with Philip Roth in our literature course.