A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


The little estate, if you could call it that, being only a few buildings, a garden, and the woods beyond, was all the same served by a kitchen garden. Having been given a hunting rifle for my sixteenth birthday, which I had no intention of actually using to shoot animals, I did use it to frighten the birds.

The lodge occupied now by the newly arrived Gabrelyanovs bordered the kitchen garden, and it was one morning when sending the seemingly ravenous birds fluttering into the sky with a loud bang, I attracted the attention of a group of young men. Perhaps more importantly the curious gaze of a slender young lady dressed in white, she being surrounded by the group.

"Hey, you there!" Shouted one of the group. "Have you no respect for the peace of your neighbours?"

I was surprised to have suddenly become the centre of attention. It seemed up until then, these youths had been entirely occupied with the not unattractive young lady whom they surrounded. Fumbling with my rifle I first caught the eye of the girl herself, before I was dumbstruck by the youth. His short cropped black hair, bright piercing eyes, and a laugh that was almost musical and not mocking, but amused.

"What are you staring at, like a moron?" Said a voice close to me, and I realised I was surrounded by the other three young men. My heart was beating loudly in my chest and my cheeks were aflame with the embarrassment of being caught. Caught out in a sudden challenge and brought face to face with some new emotion which I could not identify. Lost for any answer that would be a fit response, I turned and fled the scene. I found safety back in the house and in my bedroom where I threw myself onto the bed and lay there struck by the image of this smiling youth and the girl.

That evening over supper my father questioned me, asking me what had happened to cause me to come rushing into the house. I wasn't aware he was there, or had seen me, but his question demanded a response. I was on the point of blurting out everything, my surprise, the neighbours, the group of youths, but something held me back. Instead I brushed off the incident simply saying I had run into the family next door. My father raised a quizzical eyebrow, smiled, nodded, and said almost to himself, "I thought you might have shot a bird!"

That night I slipped under the covers and fell asleep with the curtains Ieft open and the stars twinkling in the deep black sky. I dreamt of a youth with short dark hair and the young lady he was chasing, but didn't manage to catch. I had interrupted his pursuit and he stood, legs apart, staring at me with an annoyed air of incomprehension. I looked away, waking up, remembering only a little part of our adventure. I felt contented, it was too early to get up, not yet light. I fell back to sleep.

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