Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
When I was fifteen, I once hid out in a train station overnight. Although the ticket window was closed, and there was no one around, the waiting room was open. From a giant vent in the ceiling blew hot air. It was frigidly cold outside. January and a dry snow driving in the wind. I had been walking around the city at night. Do you know what a city feels like when everyone is sleeping? The streetlights change colour all by themselves. The wind sweeps down stretches of road in a way you never see during the day. And the sky is different too. The clouds arrange themselves in a completely different order. So that things that happen come away from themselves, become detached. One can be another person at night.
The waiting room had rows of long wooden benches that had been polished by a century of waiting. The ceiling was high, and when I looked up, I could see that the room was illuminated by quaint glass lanterns that gave off an old, pinkish light. On the walls were schedules of trains to places I had never been, except one. But since I was going nowhere, I instead unwrapped my many layers of clothing and looked at my shoes. They had been described to me as men’s shoes. Why was I wearing men’s shoes? This was a question that a man had asked me only an hour previously. I had been sitting in his car. He was paying me to take off my clothes.
Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin
Actually, before I met the man who asked me about my shoes, I had been robbing a car. The car was a taxi. The taxi was parked at the train station. The train station was an old brick building from the last century. I had been walking around town getting into parked cars and stealing stuff. This is how I found the taxi, and how I came to steal the radio out of the taxi. The radio was difficult to steal. The radio had a system of wires that was nearly impossible to yank out. I pulled and pulled. I could not cut them as I had no tools. I was not a very professional thief. Finally, I got the radio out of the taxi, but I became nervous that someone, from a window of a neighbouring building, might have seen me. So I stashed the taxi radio in a garbage can at the train station. I would, I thought, take it to the pawnshop when it opened in the morning. I knew a crooked pawnbroker who would buy things from me. After I stashed the radio, I wanted to stay close by; I wanted to come back in an hour or so and collect it, so I went to an all-night doughnut shop a few blocks down the street.
Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
In a story called “Calligraphy Lesson,” a Russian, a contemporary of ours, describes in detail a series of events that, while deriving from literature, bear some resemblance to characters in this present story. But, thinking about it now, there is no reason to withhold his name. I was thinking of the mystery of mouths and voices, but this is a preoccupation of mine that need not hinder your understanding or enjoyment. Who said what and so forth. The fellow’s name is Shishkin. Mikhail. Born in the same year that the wall dividing East and West Germany went up. In this fiction of his, one of the things that struck me was his saying, “You see, I can never get anything right.”Then he follows this insistence (we think it may be disingenuous) with a discourse marker that undermines the event that follows: “For instance [emphasis mine], a few days ago I decided to drown myself.” It gets murky here, and I know that your inclination is to want to know who is speaking. But separating the narratives is, in my opinion, counterproductive because the whole objective is to enable characters to freely emigrate to and inhabit neighbouring narratives, to wander across the borders of space and time, fiction, myth, and history.
“Really, don’t laugh[!]” Then he says (he’s in character), “I dashed off a note and taped it to the mirror. But first, for some unknown reason, I decided to stop in at the bathhouse. I have no idea why. Oddly enough,” the author “remember[s] this one sturdy woman washing her red hair across from me [the author]. She was sprinkled all over with freckles—on her breasts, her belly, her back, her legs. Her hair was thick and long and soaked up so much water that when she straightened up, the washtub was nearly empty and an entire waterfall came crashing down into it.” Wouldn’t you say this is a fundamental image? I think so too. But wait for what follows. He [she] says, “When I finally got to the bridge, a barge was drifting by below. The men down there shouted something and laughed, as if to say, Come on, jump! I waited for it to pass, but right behind came another barge and another. They [the characters] kept shouting and laughing from each one and there was no end to those barges in sight. All of a sudden it struck me [me] as funny, too, so I went home, arriving before anyone else, thank God. I took down the note, grabbed a loaf of bread, and gobbled up the whole thing practically. Actually, this is all totally beside the point. Go on. Now where were we?”
The man’s car was a Volvo; it had leather seats. We drove away from the doughnut shop, me smoking one of his cigarettes. “But, wait, where am I going with all of this?” Back up, pack up. Unpark. Undark. Unbind. Unchart. Untime. Discreet. Unfreeze. Unmap. Unthaw. Underneath. Undress. Release. Confess. Clothes back on, button. Money back, chitchat. Words back. Mouth on. (Bong, bong, bong, bong.) Drive back. Lie back. Doughnut shop. Watching the sky for signs of morning, sunrise, sun up, cock crow, daybreak, glory. (Dark, dark, dark, dark.) Glass door. Sit down. Once upon. Come on. Story.
Brogues, he said. Fifteen-point, he said. Why was I wearing men’s shoes?
Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya
I had also been wearing men’s pants. And a man’s green greatcoat. It was my uncle’s, who is now dead. It was from a war, I think. The shoes were marvellous. A magnificent chestnut colour, the polished leather sturdy from use. On the toe, and around the base of the heel, a series of patterned holes. They reminded me of those lanterns you can make with a tomato juice tin and a nail. Designs around a central radiant point. Say you are sleeping outside, under the night sky. Curlicues of light like the repetitions of stars, like the spreading stems of flowers, the unfurling of leaves, dotted all over in a very pretty way.
After all that, I walked back to the train station, to check on my radio, but of course it was gone. That’s what made me think about just sitting in the waiting room. It looked empty in a way that was inviting. I liked the dark way the glass shone, and really, there was no one around for miles. According to the schedule, there wouldn’t be a train till morning, which was both a long and a short time off. It would give me time to think.
What popped into my head was the tragedy of Vronsky’s horse. How pretty she had been. Medium-sized, we are told. Muscles and sinews, covered over with a skin as hard as bone, we are told. The blood-red flaring nostrils, the slender bones of her legs, no bigger than a finger, we are told. One of those animals, we are told, who seem unable to speak only because the physical construction of their mouths does not allow them to.
Jessica Michalofsky lives in Victoria. Her fiction, non-fiction, and reviews have been published in Geist, Joyland, the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Review, Quarterly Conversation, the Rumpus, and Bookslut.