by Susanna Zaraysky
On one of the mild sunny Leningrad days of September 1965, soft sunlight passed through the tall windows and long lace curtains of the Music Conservatory hallway. Petya waited by his instructor’s door to ask for help with his violin piece in Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
From the nearby practice room, Petya could hear a pianist playing a familiar Rimsky-Korsakov tune. Petya put his violin down on the bench, sat down and closed his eyes to listen. The windows were closed, but the sound of the strong wind rustling the trees drowned out the piano music. Petya walked over to the practice room door to hear better.
Larisa, having finished playing the piece, looked at the wooden clock above the grand piano and saw that it was time to leave. Carrying her folder of music sheets, she walked out of the room and almost bumped into the young man by the door. Startled by Petya’s green eyes and sandy brown hair that glistened in the mild rays of sun shining through the curtain designs, Larisa was flustered.
“I’m sorry, were you waiting for this room? I thought it was free until 4pm,” Larisa said in a surprised tone.
“No. No,” Petya said. “I overheard you playing my favorite composer’s music. I’ve never heard anyone perform such a heartfelt interpretation.”
Larisa’s pale cheeks reddened. She had no idea that someone was eavesdropping on her.
“My name is Petya. I haven’t seen you often at the Conservatory. What year are you in?”
“I’m Larisa. This is my first year. I am not a day student, I only come to pass exams.”
“What? You should be in the regular program, you are far better than the other piano students here.”
“There wasn’t enough space for me.”
Larisa did not want to tell her admirer how the entrance exam judges accepted and then rejected her after they saw her natsionalnost, her ethnic background on her application. The Conservatory did not accept Jewish students to study in the regular day program. Larisa had to study on her own and take exams twice a year. Deeply impressed by her abilities, the instructors made an exception and let her use the practice rooms an hour a week and participate in student recitals, but they did not let her attend classes.
“Rimsky-Korsakov is my favorite composer as well,” she said changing the subject.
“Please, come with me tomorrow,” Petya said. “My friends are organizing a small student recital in the dormitory. I don’t know what pieces they’ll perform, but I would like to have you as my guest.” The autumn clouds moved in and Petya’s face was no longer alight, but his warm smile remained.
The next evening, Larisa went to Petya’s dormitory and listened to students playing both popular and classical music. Feeling like she was part of the school and not an outcast, she was honored that Petya and his friends invited her to attend more music parties in their dorm rooms.
The day before the Leningrad Philharmonic performed a Rimsky-Korsakov concert, Petya invited Larisa to his room to listen to the musical score on his record player to prepare themselves for the music. No guests were allowed in the dormitory after 8pm. Petya convinced his friends to chat up the dormitory guard while he snuck Larisa past the guard’s desk. Sitting on the floor with their back to his bed listening to the record, Larisa stretched and rolled her head several times to loosen up her strained neck. Petya, timid after only knowing Larisa for two weeks, gently kneaded his hands on her neck and shoulders. Relaxed, she fell asleep by the end of the record. Petya lifted her onto his bed and covered her in a blanket. He spent the night on the floor. After that evening, their pre-concert homework sessions became and almost daily affair.
When almonds and raisins were nowhere to be found on Soviet shelves, Petya’s thoughtful father sent him packages filled with nuts and dried fruits. The 19-year-old lovers walked along the Neva River from the Mariinsky Theater towards the Hermitage Museum intermittently munching on raisins, almonds, and French chocolates. Larisa savored the taste of the crunchy almonds, enjoying their texture on her tongue. Taking small bites of the chocolates, she let the creamy hazelnut interior saturate her mouth before she swallowed. Petya ate the treats by the mini-handful, humming the music they had just heard. Late at night, they stopped along the waterfront to watch the low-lying bridges open on the river to let the ships pass through.
Petya brought Larisa French chocolates, wine, and champagne that were only available in special stores for the nomenclatura, society’s elite. When the Italian Communist Party from Bologna came to visit Moscow, they brought samples of Italian delicacies and gave Petya’s father 10 jars of Italian marinated olives, which he shared with his son. Petya then passed them on to his talented pianist, who had never eaten these salty olives before and took an immediate liking to them.
After Petya’s parents returned from a state visit to Iran in January 1966, they sent him a package of exotic Persian tea. On a snowy January evening study session for the upcoming Mussorgsky opera festival, Petya and Larisa sat on his bed cuddling to keep warm from the cold. Petya prepared the Iranian tea in his thin porcelain tea-cups, not the colored metallic mugs with the chipped black rims that everyone else in the dorm used. Larisa happily wrapped her pale hands on her hot tea cup while she waited for the tea to cool down.
“This tea box says ‘Shaharzad’, Larisa said. “I bet that’s the Farsi name for Scheherazade from A 1001 Arabian Nights. That’s my favorite Rimsky-Korsakov ballet. The music is beyond enchanting, it’s permeating.”
“I was going to surprise you. But, I might as well tell you now. My father’s friend at the Ministry of Culture got us tickets to Scheherazade at the Symphony a week from today,” Petya said with a sly grin.
“That show has been sold out for months!” Larisa said, her brown eyes opening wide and a big smile appearing. She looked at Petya in awe for a few minutes before putting down her tea to kiss him.
Slowly, they tasted the exotic and slightly bitter brew. Petya carefully poured a tiny amount of sugar to bring out the taste of the tea without drowning the Persian blend with sweetness. “This tea is wonderful, I love the flavor. What is the name of this spice?” Larisa asked.
Petya looked at the box and saw mostly Farsi print, except for the small French lettering at the bottom, Thé avec l’arôme de cardamome.
“I think the spice or flavor is called cardamom,” he said and poured them both more tea from his Iranian samovar.
Larisa smelled the tea as the steam rose from her cup. She waited for a long time to let the tea cool down before she drank it. With the cardamom scent enveloping the room, they lay on his bed, alternating reading Omar Khayam poems in honor of their special Persian tea. Petya rolled Larisa’s long hair around his fingers as she read, and she lightly massaged his wrists while he recited the poems.
A week later, the lovers sat with their eyes closed listening to the symphony perform Scheherazade at the Mariinsky Theatre. Larisa felt goose bumps oscillate through her body during the dramatic violin solos that represented the Arab storyteller seducing her sultan with her nightly stories. After the concert, they walked along the banks of the frozen canals from the Mariinsky Theater eating almonds. Larisa was anxious and ate quickly.
“I’ll play the violin pieces from Scheherazade for you. You remind me of the storyteller when you recount the books you’ve read about the Middle East and recite poems from memory,” Petya said.
“I ate all those Italian olives you left me,” Larisa said abruptly with her eyes shifting nervously.
“I’m glad that you enjoyed them. Maybe my dad can send us more.”
“I may need them for a while,” she said.
Petya chuckled. “What do you mean?”
“I am pregnant,” she said, slowly forming a smile and moving closer to Petya.
At first, Petya thought she was kidding. Since they had just been discussing Scheherazade, the famous storyteller, he assumed that Larisa was weaving a tale of her own. But when he saw the warmth of her smile in the wan light of the moon, he stood stone-faced in silence and realized she was serious.
“I found out yesterday at the clinic.” Her smile faded.
His breath became shallow and weak. His father always spoke about the Jews poisoning Russian culture — and the gene pool. The Scheherazade violin solos stopped playing in his head, and the only sounds he heard were their crisp footsteps in the snow. When Larisa arrived at the entrance door to her apartment building, Petya quickly said goodnight—without a kiss—and disappeared into the darkness. Larisa couldn’t understand what was wrong. They were in love. Why did he not show any emotion about the baby?
The next morning, Petya wasn’t waiting for her at the Conservatory entrance to walk her to the student recital. That evening, knowing Larisa was going to be visiting her best friend Marina, Petya knocked on Marina’s dormitory door. He came into Marina’s spartan room that consisted of her bed, desk, a chair, and small electric plate. Petya was in an unusually serious mood and asked Marina if he could have some time alone with Larisa. After Marina left the room, Petya sat next to Larisa on the bed, armed with a bouquet of red flowers and French chocolates for International Women’s Day. Petya handed her the gifts, but the sight of the chocolates made Larisa sick and she refused them. He put the flowers and chocolates on the bed and looked intently at her.
“My father can help us find a doctor who will be willing to do an abortion,” Petya said in a serious tone that Larisa had never heard from her jovial lover.
“Why?” Larisa asked with surprise.
Petya was quiet but then stammered, “Doctors only perform abortions on married women.”
Larisa felt a stinging sensation in her ears. She froze and looked blankly at the wall, unable to hear any sounds for a few minutes. Petya looked at the floor and then repeated Larisa’s name.
“Larisa, are you listening to me?”
He squeezed gently on her arms until she looked at him with a blank stare. Petya panicked and paced around the room and then sat next to her again. Gradually, she became aware of the sound of the heater and looked at Petya.
“How can we support a child?” Petya pleaded in a stern voice. “We are going to be practicing full time and giving concerts at night, we won’t have time to take care of a baby.”
“Marik and Olga had a baby two years ago and they are still studying. It can be done.” Then, touching his hand, she added, “Do you want to be with me?”
Petya dropped his head and looked down at his shiny brown boots. He couldn’t tell her the truth. He was a talented musician with the “Flight of the Bumblebee” in his head, but in the end, he was the son of a privileged Soviet bureaucrat.
“I can’t,” he said looking up at her.
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
He looked at her and started crying. His tears turned his eyes the same bright green they were when they had first met.
“My dad would disown me.”
“Because I can’t be with a Jew.”
Larisa took the bouquet of flowers from his hands and walked to the window. Snow was falling outside, and the window was frozen in place. Larisa set the bouquet on the dusty windowsill. Moaning loudly, she tugged on the window, jerking until the ice broke and it flew upwards. The glass almost broke as the frame slammed into the lintel. Ignoring the draft of freezing air racing into the room, she picked up the bouquet and hurled it out into the night. It twirled through the air and fell on a spiked post of the gate in front of the dormitory. Petya walked out closing the door behind him, but the draft flung the door open and banged it against the corridor wall.
During the next few months, Larisa was optimistic that Petya would come back to her and apologize. Vacillating between morning sickness and the delight of carrying a new life inside her, Larisa’s sense of smell sharpened. Even from a distance, Larisa could sense the first blossoming tree of bird cherry emitting its redolent aroma. The days grew longer; the light through the clouds became brighter and illuminated typically overcast and gray Leningrad. Inspired by the new sunshine, Larisa took frequent walks in the Summer Garden where the fragrances from the flower beds made her feel like she was in a perfume factory. Happy being pregnant, she dreamed of what a talented musician their child could become. Her friends noticed that her face radiated a glow they’d never seen before.
Three months after International Women’s Day, when Larisa entered the student recital hall for a concert, she noticed Petya look away from her. Worse, she saw that Petya was holding hands with a blonde and blue-eyed Latvian violin student. During the concert, Larisa was deafened to the music as she looked at Petya and his new girlfriend. Larisa realized that there was no hope for them to be together. Being a Jewish single mother pianist would be impossible.
Summertime had come and without bulky clothes it was too hard to hide her pregnancy on her small frame. Knowing that Marina’s step mom was a nurse, Larisa asked Marina for help. The stepmother contacted a midwife who would perform an abortion after-hours at the clinic as long as Larisa brought her own robe, sheets, and a tub to discard the fetus and blood. The midwife met Larisa and Marina at a small clinic on a Saturday night when it was empty. Larisa paid the midwife with the French chocolates that Petya had given her on International Women’s Day and relinquished her remaining bags of almonds to a pharmacist for the anesthetic.
To make sure that no one from the street could see the lights from the clinic windows, the midwife insisted on doing the operation in the storage room that faced a wall. Larisa, Marina, and the midwife tried to wheel a hospital bed from the other side of the hospital to the storage room, but it didn’t fit through the doors. Larisa was forced to lie on a metallic table that the midwife covered with Larisa’s towels. The smell of the bleach detergent used to wash hospital linen and towels almost made her nauseous.
The pharmacist, who liked to get bribes for her services, tricked Larisa by giving her a cheap local anesthetic used for minor surgery. Larisa was lucky nonetheless, because most women getting illegal abortions didn’t have any anesthesia. A sharp pinch and burning sensation made Larisa hold her breath when the tong-like instrument clamped down on the walls of her cervix. In a reassuring tone, the midwife instructed Larisa to take deep breaths. Larisa felt a stick stabbing through her cervix. Her uterus erupted, sending currents of blood gushing out of her body. Larisa screamed. Marina, standing next to the midwife, saw Larisa’s purple face covered in streams of tears, and the blood dripping from Larisa’s vagina. Marina tried not to panic and thought quickly about how to save her friend. She wanted to call an ambulance to take Larisa to a real hospital, but she knew the emergency medics would be obligated to report about the illegal abortion and the location of the clinic. Marina rushed to the street to find a taxi. The midwife stayed with Larisa who was vomiting from the smells of the blood and bleach. Almost breathless from running, Marina came back a few minutes later and told them that she had found a taxi. The midwife and Marina quickly wrapped Larisa in towels and carried her to the waiting car. The driver looked at Larisa’s frightened and discolored face and the bloody towels.
“What happened? You’re going to stain my car seats and get me into trouble with my boss! I can’t take you,” the driver shouted.
“Marina,” the midwife said, “put Larisa’s robe and jacket on the seat to absorb the dripping blood. I’ll be right back.” She ran back to the clinic.
Marina followed the midwife’s instructions and then wrapped her arms around Larisa to keep her from shivering from the wind. The midwife returned, covered in sweat from running, and handed the taxi driver the box of French chocolates.
“Please, please, take her to the hospital immediately. It’s an emergency. If you drive to the back of the hospital, the guards on duty won’t see your car and we’ll sneak her in through the back entrance. I know the hospital well. I assure you, nothing will happen to you,” the midwife implored.
The driver carefully examined the box of chocolates and then looked at Larisa weeping.
“All right. Let’s go,” he said and took a deep breath.
The taxi driver brought them to the back entrance through an alley way. The midwife and Marina carried Larisa to the emergency room and then the midwife vanished. Marina stayed while the medical staff stabilized Larisa and stopped the bleeding. Larisa’s eyes were bloodshot from the incessant crying. When the young male doctor on duty asked Larisa what had happened, she didn’t answer. He informed her that she would no longer be able to have children.
When the doctor left to check on other patients, Larisa quietly whispered to Marina that her parents were out of town and gave Marina the keys to go to her apartment to retrieve the last bottle of Petya’s French champagne. The next day, Marina returned with the bottle hidden in a bag of clothes. When the nurses left and the doctor was alone with Larisa in the room, she thanked him and pulled the bottle from under her blanket. Shocked to see the French lettering and fancy label, the doctor read it in a hushed voice, remembering some French from his schooldays. He wrapped the bottle in a towel, put it in a bag with medical supplies, and left the room.
* * *
After graduating from the Conservatory, Larisa became a concert pianist and performed in various music halls in the city. A mutual friend told her that Petya’s father lost his post at the Central Committee and was sent to Siberia to work on “economic endeavors.” Petya continued as a professional musician and went to Moscow to perform. Although she never spoke to him again, she cried often when remembering him.
A few years after the botched abortion, mutual friends introduced Larisa to Kostya at a concert. Kostya was a well mannered Jewish flute player with the Mariinsky Opera. On the nights when Kostya wasn’t playing in the orchestra, he took Larisa to the ballets, operas, and parties at the Mariinsky. Larisa was delighted to meet the famous ballet and opera stars. She wasn’t in love with Kostya, but he treated her well. He made an excellent impression on her family by helping Larisa fix her parents’s cabinets and hardwood floor. Feeling pressured by her parents who thought that there was something wrong with her for being single at the age of 26, Larisa agreed to get married to Kostya in May 1971. Under the sunlit night sky at the start of the White Nights season, Larisa and Kostya celebrated their wedding at a friend’s dacha (summerhouse) with a late night music party outside.
After a year of being married, Kostya wondered why Larisa wasn’t pregnant yet. She didn’t tell him about the abortion or Petya and said that her gynecologist found her infertile. Kostya wanted to adopt, but Larisa didn’t want a child. She made up excuses, telling Kostya that they were too busy with their careers to have children. He desperately wanted to be a father, but didn’t want to divorce because he was in love with Larisa and didn’t want to lose her.
The couple faced a long waiting period for housing and had to live in a small two bedroom apartment with Kostya’s parents and grandmother who were always yelling. Kostya’s grandmother was mostly deaf due to a bomb explosion in World War II that had ruined her hearing. When Kostya was talking or playing music, he noticed that Larisa seemed distant. The constant screaming deafened Larisa and she didn’t realize how she was sinking into her own world. Despite her lapses of auditory isolation, she heard Kostya’s mother and grandmother constantly berating her for not having a child. When Larisa felt like she couldn’t withstand her living situation anymore, she made Kostya come with her to the housing office to see if they could qualify for their own private quarters. The response from the housing clerk was always the same: they couldn’t move because they did not have any children or older parents who would move with them.
Until a new anti-Semetic administrator in the Ministry of Culture restricted Jewish musicians from traveling, Larisa’s nationwide concerts and Kostya’s tours around Eastern Europe were their main ways of escaping the misery of their housing situation. Under the new policies, Larisa and Kostya were demoted to giving music lessons to children in a mediocre music school. Larisa couldn’t stand being around small children and could barely force herself to go to work.
In the late 1970s, many of their musician friends gathered for music parties and talked about emigration to Israel or the US. Some of their friends and acquaintances who had already left for the US, didn’t find work as musicians and made a living as babysitters or cleaners. Nevertheless, Larisa and Kostya applied to emigrate and had to quit their jobs and give private music lessons to earn money while they awaited their exit visas.
Before the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980, when many Soviet Jews emigrated, Larisa and Kostya left the Soviet Union, saying their final farewells to their family and friends. They boarded an Aeroflot flight to Vienna, where they spent two weeks interviewing with Jewish aid agencies and the Sohnut, the Israeli migration agency. After their Austrian fortnight, they traveled with the other Russian families to Rome in a special train wagon protected by armed soldiers. In Rome, they waited a month for their US visas and then moved to California, where their friends were waiting for them in San José.
Shortly after Larisa and Kostya arrived in San José, the couple was preparing to audition in the nearby opera, ballet, and symphony orchestras and re-start their careers. In the meantime, Larisa gave piano lessons to Russian and Taiwanese immigrant children in the evening, and Kostya repaired instruments in a music store. Larisa had to constantly train herself not to think about her child when she taught her students.
Soon they saw that they couldn’t live on their incomes. Their neighbor Natasha, who had been working at Costco for a year, said that she got good food discounts and the job wasn’t that bad. Even though standing at a table with a plastic hairnet and handing out samples of food didn’t appeal to her, Larisa needed a job to fill her mornings and early afternoons to be free to give lessons in the evenings.
On her first day on the job, Larisa, wearing a blue apron, hairnet, and Latex gloves, handed out samples of Jello. She was disgusted as she cut out pieces of the red gelatin made from artificial ingredients. In order to keep her sanity, she hummed classical melodies to herself while preparing samples of the fluorescent pseudo-food. Customers with bellies hanging out from their shorts stood in line, eagerly awaiting their portions of peculiarly colored and flavored gelatin. Larisa looked in dismay at the American families wearing tennis shoes and t-shirts, pushing big shopping carts filled with oversized packages.
After a week, Larisa moved to another part of the big store, where she gave out samples of peanut trail mix. The player pianos, stereos, TVs, and the VCR players were nearby. She had never seen a player piano before and thought that Americans were so lazy that they had to buy a piano that played classical and Broadway music on its own. At least in Soviet Russia, music schools were free, classical music was highly valued, and people wanted to play the piano themselves.
With “Fly me to the Moon” playing in the background, Larisa opened the fifteenth bag of trail mix. She knew that her piano student was ill and she would have the afternoon to herself. With a large plastic spoon, she scooped out the samples in small Dixie cups and was surprised to see a few almonds with the peanuts, raisins, and M&M chocolates. Maybe the factory had accidentally put almonds in this trail mix. Larisa realized that she was alone so she quickly pulled all of the almonds out and slipped them into her pocket. When no one was around, she ate the almonds one by one, savoring their crunchiness. She stopped abruptly when she heard the player piano playing a simplified version of the main theme of Scheherazade. A line formed for the peanut trail mix, but she stood frozen listening to the music that became louder and louder in her mind. She forgot that she was supposed to be handing out samples. All she could think about was that day on the canal with Petya.
Unruly children and acne scarred teenagers were nagging their parents in line and complaining that they wanted to eat the peanut trail mix. The parents just looked at Larisa and could not understand what was going on. After a while, some customers seized the trail mix bag and served themselves. Larisa remained paralyzed when the music changed to Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get around much anymore.” She didn’t hear the transition, her mind kept on replaying the Scheherazade piece.
After the shift, she took a walk around the parking lot and sat down by a tree and cried. Looking at her watch, she figured that if she wanted to leave before Natasha got off duty, she had to hurry home. Weeping during the bus ride, Larisa’s eyes reddened and tears slowly fell down her neck to her shirt. At home, she took a nap and a shower before Kostya returned from work.
Natasha’s husband Boris drove all of them to Rimma and Isak’s party in his donated beat up red Ford Taurus. Rimma had prepared a typical Russian spread with zakuski appetizers that included: caviar sandwiches, salmon, potato salad, marinated tomatoes, pickles, and blinchiki, a specialty of pancakes with meat. Inside, Rimma and Isak’s oldest daughter Asya played Russian folk and children’s songs on the piano with her eight-year-old sister Susan and Kostya singing along with her. Asya already was excelling at the piano and was, by chance, exactly the age of Larisa’s aborted child. Larisa looked at how happy Kostya was with the girls and wondered what kind of father he could have been and who her child would have become.
The Russian and American guests sat under the fragrant wisteria covered gazebo in the backyard for dinner. After the wine and zakuski, Kostya’s friend Volodya took out his guitar and announced that he was going to start with a famous gypsy song. The Russians dramatically clapped and sang along in unison, smiling to the tune of this fun gypsy melody. Larisa watched Asya and Susan clapping each other’s hands in a game.
“Davai yesho tsiganskuyu, Hey, sing another gypsy tune” Kostya said.
After the gypsy songs, Volodya followed with romantic and melancholic melodies about unrequited love. The Russian guests couldn’t stop making song requests as the Americans, assuming that the foreign hosts would be somber, sat in awe. So many song requests followed that Volodya didn’t have a chance to eat his food, but he didn’t seem to care. He was happy to have a captive and sympathetic audience. Periodically, he stopped to drink vodka shots, followed by a pickle slice.
“Let’s have some tea,” Rimma said and went to boil water in the samovar while Volodya played.
Rimma poured the cardamom tea in the zavarnoy, pot of strong tea, and covered it with a large Russian cotton doll used to keep the tea hot.
“I got this tea at the Persian store. I love the cardamom. The man at the store told me that the name of the tea company is the Persian word for Scheherazade, the storyteller from 1001 Arabian Nights.”
“Scheherazade, that’s Larisa’s favorite ballet,” Kostya said.
“I am sorry, I have to excuse myself. I’ll be right back,” Larisa said as she stood up to go to the bathroom.
Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, she broke down crying. Mascara dripped down her cheeks, and her eyes were glossy from tears. She wanted to go home, but she didn’t want to ask Natasha and Boris to leave early. Larisa went back out to the patio and sat down. When Kostya asked her why her eyes were teary, Larisa said that her allergies were bothering her.
As the sun was setting, Volodya was playing a popular Italian song they all remembered from their brief stay in Rome. The girls sang along in Italian with the other Russians while Rimma was slicing the olallieberry pie. Larisa stared at the table and could smell the cardamom aroma from Kostya’s cup. Kostya asked Larisa to bring out the ice cream cake she had brought from work. He saved her. Now she had an excuse to leave the table. She got up, opened the sliding glass patio door, and walked across the living room to the kitchen. Larisa opened the freezer, found the Costco bag with the cake inside, and then looked for a knife. She placed the cake on the tiled counter and started to slice some pieces and saw the dinner party through the glass door. Rimma turned on the porch light that illuminated Volodya, catching Larisa by surprise so that she almost dropped the knife.
“I’ll play that famous song from the movie Zhestoki Romans if Larisa accompanies me,” Volodya announced loudly enough for Larisa to hear inside the house.
“I can’t. I’m too busy with the cake. Natasha should sing, she has a lovely voice,” Larisa yelled from the kitchen.
“OK, I’ll sing,” Natasha said.
At our parting
I’ll go crazy
Or I’ll ascend to insanity
How you loved
How you lost
Larisa looked through the lace curtain at Volodya playing and Natasha singing the movie’s main heart-wrenching love song about a woman who falls in love with a charming rich man who doesn’t know how to love her.
Thinking about the parallels between her life and her namesake’s character in the movie and the song, Larisa wasn’t paying attention to the knife. As she was cutting the cake, a slip of the knife cut part of her index finger. Blood dropped on the chocolate ice cream cake covered with almond slivers.
Larisa ran outside to the patio and interrupted the soulful singing.
“Rimma, where are your Band-Aids?”
Blood gushed out of Larisa’s finger all over her shirt.
“Larisa, what happened?” Kostya said and jumped from his chair to her side. Larisa burst into tears and felt a piercing sensation in her ears. All the sounds and voices around her became amplified and indistinguishable. Rimma ran to the bathroom and came back with wet and dry towels, and a box of Band Aids.
“Honey, you’ll be fine. It’s just a minor cut. Why are you crying?” Kostya said and put his arm around her. Larisa still couldn’t hear anything or feel Kostya’s touch. She stared at the samovar.
Larisa shook her head and wept like a frightened infant. Everyone else at the table quietly sipped their cardamom tea and watched Kostya wash the blood off her hand. They stepped away to the peach tree in the garden. Kostya held Larisa and felt her shirt was moist from her tears.
Slowly, Larisa’s senses resuscitated. The jasmine smell in the garden confused her; she didn’t recognize where she was. She became aware of Kostya’s arms wrapped around her chest. Looking up at the sliver of the moon and then to the dinner party by the gazebo, Larisa’s heart palpitations slowed and she stopped crying.
“When we get home, I have something important to tell you. I should have told you this a long time ago,” Larisa uttered with her gaze fixed on her husband.
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