There was a hailstorm on the day the Gargoyle snuck up behind me and stole the key to our apartment. I remember, the coast carried a sense of unease, afraid of the impending damage. That afternoon a gale danced with such might and stamina that the entire dockyard shook with fear. I, for my part, had done well and denied the sin of gluttony, which came in the form of a Napoleon tort that my husband, Anton, had bought in a fancy bakery in Sevastopol. A rare indulgence for our family these days.
I sat alone in the dining room, trying to warm my hands over the samovar. The fire crackled unenthusiastically in the wood stove. I looked out of the shuddering window, wondering when Anton would be back.
Our possessions were meagre. I slept on a creaking bed in a claustrophobic bedroom while Anton extended his frail body across the sofa in the living room. In our wardrobe, we kept a couple of T-shirts and woolly sweaters; a fur hat for the winter; several pairs of jeans that Anton bargained from the local market; and a long cotton skirt that no longer fit me. Our most prized item was the white porcelain bowl set on the wooden table my dead son insisted on hauling over here from our old house across the border in Ukraine – our old home which no longer exists.
Anton had suffered much over the past few fruitless years on the Crimean Peninsula, unable to secure permanent employment. Bless him, he did try very hard to find work at the docks, with his naval background and whatnot. Alas, no one would hire a Ukrainian military man here, suspicious of their intentions. Anyhow, these days, my jumbled thoughts formed concentric circles, with me treading on the outermost sphere, swimming against my inner current to get back to shore. Still, I knew I could always rely on my bank of wonderful memories under the cherry tree at our old dacha, where my dead son and I used to prepare jars and jars of cherry jam.
Suddenly, a gust of wind smashed into the window with a loud bang shaking me from my reverie. I stood up slowly and took my jacket by the front door, the key gave a muffled jingle from the pocket. Perhaps I would find Anton by the harbour, asking for a job, any job. Upon closing the door, our neighbour warned me that now was not the best time to be outside, but I politely declined his counsel and climbed down the stairs towards the entrance of our building.
An hour later, I finally reached Artbukhta, the ferry terminal in the city centre, past the Museum of Black Sea Fleet, along Kornilova Embankment. The yachts swayed to the rhythm set by the storm and the waves crashed against the stone walls, spilling over onto the paved streets. I found a bench on the embankment that gave me a nice view of the harbour but it was wet. Obviously. Reaching into another pocket, I pulled out a plastic bag and set it down on the bench. I kept plastic bags because they were useful; they could double as a raincoat for your head if you ever found yourself in the rain without a jacket. My jacket did have a hood and it sheltered my white curls. My face though, was wet from the constant precipitation that flew sideways. Perhaps Anton would walk past me any moment now.
I paid attention to every male figure that crossed my sight. But another hour ticked by, shown by the clock tower just across the harbour and I still did not see him. There were few people on the streets, let alone by Artbukhta. A kind young woman walked over to me and asked me what I was doing out here in this condition. I told her I was looking for Anton. She said I could go home with her, until the storm had passed. At this point, I got mad and yelled, “No, thank you. I have a home too, you know, but it was taken away from me!” She scurried away and I felt a sense of remorse over my unwarranted burst of anger. Sometimes even I have no idea about the origin of these outbursts. It is as if the harder I try to swim back ashore, the stronger my inner current pulls me back out.
Twisted branches behind me fell down and a loud crack once again jolted me back to reality. My eyes found refuge in the word “Volare” stamped across one of the yachts. My dead son had taught me how to read English letters. They were not too difficult to learn, sharing some common characters with the Cyrillic alphabet. I did not understand the meaning of these letters, but I liked the way they looked. It seemed like a universal typeface, a font that would never go out of style, unlike the way that the Soviet Union had gone out of style. The way that my brain had gone out of style.
At this moment, I felt the Gargoyle’s presence. It creeped behind the bench and sniggered at me. I turned around frantically and though I could not see him, he managed to steal the key that was in my pocket. How dare he! I stood up quickly and searched for him behind the bushes. It was not the first time he had stolen my key. My goodness, my sweet Anton would not be happy if he knew about this.
I thought I saw the Gargoyle lurking on the deck of the “Volare” yacht and I ran towards it, only to find myself on the slippery ground. When I looked up, I saw the hail first, followed swiftly by Anton’s pale and worried face. How glad was I to see him!
“Mom, why are you here? I told you to stay at home!”
“Mom? I’m not your mom, my son is dead!”
Anton’s eyes welled up with tears and they fell on my cheeks as he embraced me. All I can remember is that they tasted salty and the Gargoyle smirked.
*the original title of the artwork by Irina Surikova is "Yacht harbour in Venice"
July 30th, Friday
I can’t get her out of my mind. I simply can’t.
I adore how her blonde hair sparkles when she emerges from the sea. I adore her hazel brown eyes, they are such a twinkling delight to look into. But most of all, I adore how she isn’t afraid to be herself.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m no match for her – she’s too confident, too bold in her approach. She has probably friend-zoned me. I’ve seen all of her other guy “friends” who are always waiting by the beach for her. I can see how their ears perk up when she arrives, especially Big Guy Jack. He hovers around her like a dog waiting to pounce on a bird – so desperate. I promised myself that I’ll be a gentleman. She is a lady worthy of love and affection, so much so that I’m willing to risk my life for her. Diabetes is no joke of a disease, mum told me that. She said I need to be home for my insulin shots every night, but Frosty is worth at least one missed shot.
Yesterday, I snuck out of the house when my babysitter came. I ran down to Power Station Beach, almost knocking over my neighbour Bruce who was out for a walk. I was certain she was there. The moon was out, shining in full glory. The insects were scat singing loudly in full jazz fashion. The air was sickeningly humid but even that didn’t bother me. I just knew I had to see her and tell her how I felt.
Her scent lingered on the path and I followed it. At last, there she was – by the water, her usual spot. She saw me run towards her and to my relief, she ran towards me, too! My heart! But suddenly, I was tackled from the side and found myself lying on the sand with my face smashed in. When I looked up, I saw Big Guy Jack. He gritted his teeth and for a moment, I was scared shitless.
Frosty was panting when she got to the crime scene but she gently nudged me with her nose and those hazel eyes gazed deep into my soul. She told Jack to go home and that she wanted to be left alone. When he refused, she gritted her teeth, too. I got up hastily and let out a meek bark, still feeling a little dizzy. Jack finally backed down and retreated like the sore loser he is.
Then, she put her white paw on mine and asked, “What took you so long?”