19 September 2006

"Let's have light blue fog"

Trolleys passed Simeonov's window, once upon a time clanging their bells and swinging the hanging loops that resembled stirrups -- Simeonov kept thinking that the horses were hidden up in the ceiling, like portraits of trolley ancestors taken up to the attic; but the bells grew still, and now all he heard was the rattle, clickety-clack and squeals on the turns, and at last the red-sided cars with wooden benches died, and the new cars were rounded, noiseless, hissing at stops, and you could sit, plopping down on the soft seat that gasped and gave up the ghost beneath you, and ride off into the blue yonder to the last stop, beckoning with its name: Okkervil River. But Simeonov had never gone there. It was the end of the world and there was nothing there for him, but that wasn't it, really: without seeing or knowing that distant, almost non-Leningrad river, he could imagine it in any way he chose: a murky greenish flow, for instance, with a slow green sun murkily floating in it, silvery willows softly hanging down from the gentle bank, red brick two-story houses with tile roofs, humped wooden bridges -- a quiet world in a sleepy stupor, but actually it was probably filled with warehouses, fences, and some stinking factory spitting out mother-of-pearl toxic gases, a dump smoldering smelly smoke, or something else hopeless, provincial, and trite. No, no reason to be disillusioned by going to Okkervil River, it was better to mentally plant long-haired willows on its banks, set up steep-roofed houses, release slow-moving residents, perhaps in German caps, striped stockings, with long porcelain pipes in their mouths....even better to pave the Okkervil's embankment, fill the river with gray water, sketch in bridges with towers and chains, smooth out the granite parapets with a curved template, line the embankment with tall gray houses with cast iron grates on the windows -- with a fish-scale motif on top of the gates and nasturtiums peeking from the balconies -- and settle young Vera Vasilevna there and let her walk, pulling on a long glove, along the paving stones, placing her feet close together, stepping daintily with her black snub-toed slippers with apple-round heels, in a small round hat with a veil, through the still drizzle of a St. Petersburg morning; and in that case, make the fog light blue.

Let's have light blue fog. The fog in place, Vera Vasilevna walks, her round heels clicking, across the entire paved section held in Simeonov's imagination, here's the edge of the scenery, the director's run out of means, he is powerless and weary, he releases the actors, crosses out the balconies with nasturtiums, gives those who like it the grating with fish-scale motif, flicks the granite parapets into the water, stuffs the towered bridges into his pockets -- the pockets bulge, the chains droop as if from grandfather's watch, and only the Okkervil River flows on, narrowing and widening feverishly, unable to select a permanent image for itself.

--Tatyana Tolstaya
"Okkervil River"
in On the Golden Porch
translated by Antonina W. Bouis