Then new feelings of resentment seized her. Looking from her study window to his room below, she could see, under the lattice of the glass roof, her husband’s whorled crown of dark shaggy hair – thinning in the centre, she noticed – where he had slumped forward, beard on chest, feigning sleep. Playing possum was invariably his ruse when unwelcome questions remained unanswered. And those he had answered had been matters-of-fact, cursorily conveyed with his face turned from her.
He had said no more than that he was living in his unleased town flat with a young woman named Nadezhda. He called her Nadia, a Russian from Saratov who had never visited the West before. He said she was unworldly, and in the city she was endangered by a childlike inexperience. At heart, he said, she was an unsophisticated, provincial girl who was prey to primitive superstitions. Without too much thought he had bestowed on her his protection.
‘All that you imagine is probably true,’ Leon had said. Beyond that he would say nothing more.
She slammed the window and saw his eyelids flicker. So be it, she decided, if he chose to retreat behind a carapace of calculated indifference, then she would contrive her manner to be no different from his – yet, she vowed, before the week was ended it would be her intention to unbeard a lifetime of manifold deceptions.
The evening was cool so the out-of-season dark wool cape she threw over her shoulders granted her a plausible concealment to melt into the dusk. Thus seven-o’clock saw Miriam striding after two distant linked shadows as they crossed Leinster Square. This quarter of London was familiar to Miriam and she found no difficulty in keeping pace with the couple as they turned the corner of the Westbourne terraces and entered Ladbroke Grove.
She halted and drew back at the gateway of a peeling townhouse set in a neglected garden. A doorbell sounded and Miriam heard a gutteral murmur in Russian as her husband and his paramour were admitted by a hulking grizzled usher.
When the door closed Miriam inspected the illuminated bell escutcheon. ‘The Pushkin Club.’
Standing in an angle of the garden, in a quadrant of shade, Miriam found she could observe – through a slit in the shutters – the company of discussants within.
This is what she saw. A fine, high-ceilinged drawing room with flaking lemon coloured plaster. (She thought: ‘ “Lemon Peel” - wasn’t that the title of an unwritten sketch by Chekhov?’ It was.) There was a large copper samovar on the sidetable and a framed photograph of Osip Mandelstam. A frayed electrical flex holding a shaded bulb was suspended from the ceiling’s crumbling plaster rose.Sub rosa, in front of the vast library stacks which formed the far wall, a half circle of ill-assorted chairs had been drawn up to face the window. A row of émigrés with expectant faces drank tea from unmatched china teacups which appeared to be the only items they’d saved from their country houses before their decadent burzhuaznyi drawing rooms were converted by the Bolsheviks into grain stores.
There was much laughter and clapping when an actor wearing side-whiskers and an old, worn frock coat darted between the chairs and stood before the window.
‘A monologue in one act by Anton Pav’lich Chekhov,’ he announced in a heavily accented, corncrake rasp. There was scattered applause. The mock lecture commenced.
Leon’s hand, she saw, was resting on Nadia’s thigh, but when the actor came to the passage where the deranged hen-pecked soi-disant lecturer wrings his hands and rails across the footlights (‘ ... my wife runs a boarding school. Well, not exactly a boarding school, but something in the nature of one. My wife doesn’t give parties and never has anyone to dinner. She’s a very stingy, bad-tempered, shrewish kind of lady, so no-one ever comes to see us. If only I could run away from that stupid, petty, spiteful harridan of a wife who’s made my life a torment ...’) Miriam saw her husband reach out and grip his mistress’s knee. Nadia, however, did not smile.
‘In the right hands it could be hilarious,’ Leon said, and snickered once more.
Nadia disengaged his hand as she opened the door.
‘Tell me, Lvyonok,’ said Nadia, inconsequentially, pronouncing the words thickened, as though her teeth were grinding on ice, ‘who is that Amerikanetz whose name sounds like a sneeze?’ They closed the outside door before Miriam heard Leon’s answer.
Extracts from The Cheated Eye,
Part Six of Sister Morphine by
Catherine Eisner (2008)
See The Girl on the Number 52 Omnibus . . . destination Ladbroke Grove . . .
Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence,
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)