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Authors: Denise Roig

Any Day Now

BOOK: Any Day Now
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Any Day Now

Denise Roig

© 2004, Denise Roig

Print Edition ISBN 0-921833-98-9

Ebook Edition, 2011

ISBN 978-1897109-73-1

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, without the permission of the publisher.

Cover design by Terry Gallagher/Doowah Design.

Photo of Denise Roig by Ariel Tarr.

Acknowledgements

The title “Windows Like Doors Everywhere You Look” is borrowed from a line in Adam Gopnik's wonderful book
Paris to the Moon
.

Thanks to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for the financial support that enabled me to work on this book. Thanks to Vicky Reuter for the telling of Russian tales. Gratitude and more to Rafe Roig, my father, who read, read again, and made such wise suggestions. And to my husband, Raymond Beauchemin, for the faith, love and support:
grazie, amore mio.
Finally, a blessing on the monks at Oka monastery who gave me peace and shelter for intense weekends of writing and editing.

We acknowledge the support of The Canada Council for the Arts and the Manitoba Arts Council for our publishing program.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Roig, Denise

Any day now / Denise Roig.

I. Title.

PS8585.O3955A64 2004     C813'.54    C2004-906004-X

Signature Editions, P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon

Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3M 3S7

For Beauch

“By balance, I do not mean just the ability to hold one's balance, but rather your relationship to the space around you.”

— Martha Graham

“All I know is what the words know…and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.”

— Samuel Beckett

Author's Note

In the 1920s, Martha Graham and Louis Horst developed a method of making modern dance based on the sonata, or A-B-A, form: exposition, development, recapitulation. I learned to choreograph this way as a dance student at the Juilliard School of Music. It was, I soon saw, a way to order space; make connections; tell a story. Beginning, middle and end. Forty years later, I have returned to this structure with these trios of short stories.

Troika
Car

I'll tell you a story, says my friend Luba, a story to tell you what it's like in Russia now. To give you a flavour.

She's just returned from Moscow, her first trip back in six years, years in which she's become quite the Quebecer. Luba speaks a nice joual-y French and visits an osteopath regularly. She shops weekly at Club Price, cheers for les Canadiens. She's also become, if this is possible, more Russian.

I can tell by the way she pauses and punctuates that the story is déjà-told. No matter. Luba's got theatrical timing — she turns her sleek, blonde head away from her cigarette smoke now, an actressy, disdainful turning — plus a talent for dark humour and overstatement. Truth is an elastic thing for Luba. You have to know that going in. She scans the Montreal café. There are only a few of us out on this frigid late-January afternoon. KGB? You never know.

So, says Luba.

It's New Year's Eve, 1999. The millennium has come even to Moscow. Luba and Anya, her young daughter, have just left the last store on their rounds of party shopping. Plastic bags of goodness are slung from their wrists — rye bread and cheese pastries, a bottle of vodka, two boxes of exorbitant Belgian chocolate. There's a party in their old neighbourhood. A school friend, someone Luba hasn't seen yet, has invited them to ring in the next century. And now, according to the news reports Luba hears as she goes from store to store, there's something else to celebrate: the resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

The sky is milky with low clouds. The snow — which only looks white in the dark — is mounded and melting around the wheels of their fifteen-year-old Lada, on loan from another friend. The car has been both benevolence and curse. Already Luba feels she will need months of acupuncture and realignment when she returns to Montreal. The car requires brute Russian strength to manoeuvre, and the traffic — she'd forgotten the traffic! — demands nerves of titanium. Luba — exhausted from a recent, failed, first lesbian love, a feverish return to smoking and the emotional landfill of packing up and selling her dead mother's Leninski Prospekt apartment — possesses only the nerves.

“I put my knee out driving that thing,” she tells me. “When I got back to Montreal, part of the bone was sticking out.
Vraiment
,” she insists. I can see Luba's new Camry through the window of the café. Such an obedient, mild vehicle. Like most North American cars by way of Japan, it requires a single key.

Not so the Lada on loan. It has three keys: trunk, ignition and door, all of which spin from Luba's hand like tiny, doomed helicopters as she and Anya cross the dark street on New Year's Eve. On hands and knees in the snow, they find two of the keys. Luba moves the car — one of the two fits the ignition — angling it so the headlights illuminate the surrounding snow. “It's disgusting,” she says, a woman already spoiled by clean Canadian winters. “So oily and dirty.
Tabernac!
We sift through every inch of that shit.” But no key.

She calls Nadia, the owner of the car, on her cellphone. Luba has, it seems, lost the key that is key. More important even than starting a car in Moscow is the imperative to keep it safe from thieves. An unlocked car is a car you no longer have. Nadia is pessimistic about the outcome. But there is nothing any of them can do at 10:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Nor anything that realistically will be done for the next while. “Everyone,” Luba says, “will be drunk until at least the fourth of January. And then it's Christmas,
our
Christmas.”

Mother and daughter make their way to Otradnoye, the old neighbourhood. The name, Luba explains, comes from the Russian word
otrada
, which means something that brings back joy, comfort, happiness, consolation even…a sweet-sour joke to Otradnoye's working-poor residents. Luba pretends to lock the doors with one of the keys, in case anyone is looking. Upstairs the party is well underway. The air is smoky and damp with vodka. Tatiana, Luba's oldest friend, weeps when she sees nine-year-old Anya. Can't speak, can only lead them into the kitchen where she's chopping eggs and potatoes. She's remembered Luba's favourite salad: diced potatoes and pickles and peas and enough mayonnaise to raise cholesterol levels. “You ate it when you were this big,” and she gestures low, even lower than Anya, and bursts into tears again.

Luba would like to cry, too. Every day in Moscow has been like this, dense with emotion. She slips a finger into the bowl of steaming potatoes, and swallows two perfect little chunks instead of weeping. Back home in Montreal, her former lover, Thérèse, a large, motherly woman, would be picking up her young son from the Y, might be stopping at a Second Cup for a latte and biscotti, maybe then at the pharmacy for toothpaste and fabric softener. In Tatiana's steamy kitchen Luba resolves to find a life of quiet love.

The TV is on in the next room, and over and over as someone goes between channels, she hears Yeltsin say, “I am leaving. I have done everything I could. I am not leaving because of my health, but because of all the problems taken together.” Every time Yeltsin says, “I am leaving,” a cheer goes up. Packing all the food into the small fridge, Tatiana leads Luba out to meet the other guests. Some Luba knows from the old days, friends and extensions of Tatiana's family. Four men have carved out their territory in one corner and are downing what can't possibly be the first vodka of the night. The names — Dmitri, Yuri, Levan, Aleksandr — ring no bells for Luba. They live in the building. Their wives and children have gone to bed. The men want to celebrate.

“Tell them about the car,” urges Tatiana, pouring shots for herself and Luba. The food is for later, for some deemed time in the middle of the night. For now there is only vodka. Luba begins the tale, starting with the way the keys looked flying in the moonlight. She calls them “tiny, doomed helicopters,” so I am right: I am not the first to hear this. “Damn Chechens!” someone bellows. Luba makes herself both the victim and butt of the story. But this is what she loves, loves even more after six years spent among milder people, people without a love for embellishment, people completely lacking in hysteria.

“Drama, it's in our DNA,” she tells me and checks her Camry again over her shoulder, an old reflex quickly relearned. The car is still there on Victoria Avenue. Her face registers both relief and boredom. A blonde woman in a long fur pushes a little Chinese girl in a Perego stroller on the sidewalk outside.

“What an adorable baby,” I say, but Luba doesn't turn around again.

These new revelers in Tatiana's flat are hugely sympathetic. Where is the car now? they want to know. When two of the men start getting their coats on, the other two have no choice but to get theirs on, too. “We will fix it,” says Dmitri, the shortest of the four. And the men go out, trailing the fumes of a long drinking day into the minus-20-degree night.

“Needless to say, I'm not encouraged,” says Luba. “They are slurring their speech. They are having trouble zipping their coats. What are they going to do to my car?”

The men come back minutes before midnight to toast the wonderful new century, the one that will surely see again the rise of the Russian people. “‘Russia will never return to the past. Russia will now always be moving forward.' You heard old Boris,” Yuri says, raising another glass. “For once the bastard wasn't lying.” They also come back to devour platters of food and to report that, “We got the door off.” They seem cheered by their accomplishment and drink to the success that must follow.

All night they come and go, reporting in — “We are fixing it!” — and drinking and going back outside. Anya lies down on Tatiana's bed in the corner of the room. Tatiana's mother is the only one who has actually left the room, retiring at 3:00 to the tiny room off the kitchen. Luba and Tatiana sit with Tatiana's grown son, Vlad, and Ekaterina, his girlfriend, plus her mother and two sets of neighbours from the old days. They look at old photos, tell Luba about their poor-paying jobs, about the cost of gas and electricity, about the cost of everything, about how they envy her, though no one has asked one question about her new life. Everyone drinks some more.

By 7:00 a.m. on the first day of the new millennium, the neighbours are gone and Ekaterina and her mother are asleep on the daybed, back to back, grey head against peroxided head. Luba and Tatiana pick at the leftover salad, which is warm now and probably unsafe. The radio that has played Yeltsin's farewell words over and over is still on. “I want to ask you for forgiveness, because many of our hopes have not come true, because what we thought would be easy turned out to be painfully difficult. I ask you to forgive me for…” but Tatiana reaches over and turns it off. “Drunk,” she says. In Montreal, Luba's ex-lover would be toasting the New Year with women friends. Sparkling wine, some good triple-crème brie. Someone would have thought to get noisemakers. The sound they make at midnight will be uncommonly loud.

The men come back upstairs. The bloom is gone.

“Come,” they tell Luba.

It's worse than Montreal outside, so cold you can barely breathe or move your feet. Her body, Luba says, threatens to become an ice statue. The five bunch together on the sidewalk. Every nut and bolt from the door is laid out on the snow like a surgical bundle unwrapped. The light, if you can call what comes from the Moscow sky this morning light, reflects dully off the pieces. They have been extraordinarily methodical. Luba can see this.

“It was going to work,” one of the men tells her, momentarily bright, remembering the glory of the night, all its hopes. The others stand bowed, like mourners.

The problem is minor but insurmountable. There is one last screw to undo. But it demands a certain kind of screwdriver. No one has that screwdriver, not ordinary men like these who do things like teach and drive a bus and work the black market. No one but a mechanic has that screwdriver. And the mechanics…

“I know,” says Luba.

There is nothing to do but put the door back on. Luba goes upstairs to sleep.

By noon, the party has begun again. Luba, who's been sleeping in a twist next to Anya on the couch in the main room, wakes to the sound and smell of onions frying. Tatiana and her mother have returned to their stations in the kitchen. Anya, still in her Westmount party dress, yawns and turns over. People with bottles show up at the door: new neighbours, the old neighbours from the night before. In Montreal, Luba's former lover would be asleep by now, a small hangover gathering at the base of her skull. But Thérèse won't feel it yet. She will turn over in the big bed, feel no absence.

In Tatiana's multi-purpose room, mugs of chai pass hands. And glasses of vodka, in case the night before hasn't been sufficient. Luba is prevailed upon to tell her story again. In the watery light of midday, she sees her story play out on the faces around her. She watches its rise and fall, its triumph and defeat. That it ended the way it did doesn't dampen anyone's spirit.

“To the Lada!” toasts one man. “The biggest piece of shit next to Yeltsin himself!”

“To the unlucky sonofabitch who steals it!” seconds Tatiana's son, who's wandered in from the kitchen.

“Let me see it,” says a man from the kitchen doorway. He's large and blond and pink, and from the minute he walked in the door, nearly yelling with cheer, Luba has taken a dislike to him. Shows of testosterone nauseate her now.

“What? Another amateur mechanic?” she says.

“Mommy, let him,” says Anya, now awake. She looks pale and worried in her dark velvet.

“Let me see it,” the man says.

It's even colder than it was at midnight, which, Luba says, really does feel like a century ago. The car is miraculously there, the door reattached, the men gone. A large piece of insulation sits on the hood, the only oversight.

The man, bigger even in his parka, peers at the keyhole, opens the door and slams it shut. He does it again as if to convince them both of something. The car shudders from the attention.

“Then this guy takes out a key ring with twenty keys on it,” says Luba. “Former KGB for sure. ‘I've got this same model,' he tells me. And then he puts the key into the lock of a car that is not his. The little button moves up and down, up and down. ‘See?' the man says. ‘I told you.'”

Luba tries the key herself. It's like butter in there. The man takes the keys, locks the car, and without waiting for her, goes back upstairs.

Luba walks around the car, looks inside. Nothing's been touched since the night before. She takes the piece of insulation from the hood, folds its bulk in two and sticks it in the neighbours' trash box because Nadia doesn't need to know this part of the story. Luba walks around the car again and then again, feeling both proprietary and untethered. She would like to drive off somewhere, but the man has the key to the door.

She could keep walking round and round like this, but the cold is impossible. She climbs the dark stairwell. The single bulb that worked last night is out. Inside Tatiana's apartment, the man is demanding another glass of vodka, the good stuff. No, the best stuff. Luba wonders what he will demand for the return of the key.

“To Russia and to Ladas,” Tatiana's son toasts. “Broken, but still working.”

“For now,” belts out Luba's rescuer.

“That's my country for you,” says Luba and turns her head from the smoke.

BOOK: Any Day Now
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