Ivan Bunin: Rusia

He leaned to the window, and she leaned on his shoulder.

“Once I spent a vacation in this area,” he said, “I was a tutor in a summer cottage, about five miles away from hear. Boring place. Scarce woods, magpies, mosquitoes, and dragonflies. No decent landscape whatsoever. In the cottage, one could only enjoy the skyline from the attic. The house, of course, was very Russian-style and very unattended – it belonged to an impoverished family – with a strip of land behind it that bore some resemblance to the garden. Behind that garden was either a lake or a swamp, all plant-filled with pond lilies and with a usual boat by the boggy bank.

“And a languid provincial girl you gave rides across this swamp.”
“Of course, just the way it always is. The girl however, was far from being the languid kind. I gave her rides mostly at nights, and it had a certain poetry. In the west, the sky was greenish all night, and transparent; on the horizon, just like now, something was burning down… We found only one oar and it looked more like a spade. I was rowing like a savage, to the left and to the right sides. The opposite shore was dark from the woods, but behind it, the strange half-light stayed. Adding up to this landscape was the absolute silence, just mosquitoes and dragonflies. I have never thought they were active at night – but they are, for some strange reason. That’s eerie…

“So, what happened between you and the girl? A real romance? You’ve never told me about her. What was she like?”

“Lean, tall. She wore yellow cotton sleeveless dress and peasant boots on her bare feet, knitted out of bright wool.

“Russian-style also?”

“More poverty-style, I’d say. Nothing to wear, hence the sleeveless dress. Besides that, she was an artist, she studied fine arts at the Stroganov Academy. She herself looked like a painting, an icon even. Long black braid down her spine, dark face with little black moles, perfectly shaped lean nose, black eyes, black eyebrows… Her hair was dry and thick, with curls. All of it, against the yellow robe and the white sleeves of her shirt, stood out nicely. Her feet in the knitted boots – all lean, with bones sticking out under the dark skin.”

“I know this type. I had a friend at the courses, like her. Must be a hysterical type.”

“Possible. All the more, she bore resemblance to her mother, and her mother, some princess with eastern blood, had a sort of a black melancholy. She would only appear at the table. She came out, sat down, and kept quiet, only coughed without looking up and meddled with the flatware. If she did say something, always loud and unexpected, it made me startle.”

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT


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