A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


At breakfast the next morning my mother was not pleased about how I had spent my evening, but she was not too severe with her telling-off. She asked what we had done and I told her, but omitted much of the detail. For my mother our neighbours were not the sort to frequent, but she left it at that. She was more concerned about me wasting my time when I should be studying for my examination to enter the university. My father in contrast, took me by the arm, after breakfast, and led me into the garden where he insisted I tell him everything about the Gabrelyanovs.

The relationship I had with my father was both distant and close at different moments. Mostly he was gentle, kind, and respectful towards me and allowed me a great deal of freedom. He was not concerned very much about my education, taking only the slightest interest in my academic achievements, of which there were not too many. I regarded him with admiration, and I loved him. He could with the simplest gesture or a few kind words evoke a tremendous affection in me towards him. I very easily talked to him like a friend and confidant and he encouraged me to speak freely. Then as easily as we had been close, sharing a moment together, he would distance himself. Still kind and gentle, but he pushed me away and once again we were apart as was our usual relation for most times.

Sometimes my father was exuberant and he shared himself with me. We would touch and romp together, he would caress me with a fond tenderness, but this was rare and such occasions would quickly vanish giving me a certain profound sense of loss. I used to watch and scrutinise him, searching for something, but I knew not what. He would seem to have an empathy with me and to know exactly how I was feeling. He might then come close to me and give a touch, a pat on the cheek, a simple gesture that provoked a surge of emotion within me. I came to realise that he had not too much time for family life, that my father was occupied elsewhere. From time to time he would impart a certain knowledge saying such things as "don't be ruled by others." Once, when I was expounding new found liberal views, he asked me, "Do you know what liberty is?" I shook my head.

"Liberty," he repeated, "is to know yourself, and to be yourself, to seek fulfilment."

My father had this zest for life, he possessed a power, and a desire to live fully. On later reflection, I could understand that perhaps his character, his love of life, was created through a certain presentiment that he would not be long in this world, he died aged forty-five.

I told him everything about how I had spent my evening with the Gabrelyanovs. He nodded, interjected little comments, and appeared to contemplate what I recounted. We sat together as two old friends, on the garden seat, and we talked for what seemed to me like hours. It was not, and it was I who did the talking, pouring out my heart. Because his closeness encouraged me to share and even, although I was terribly reluctant, to bring up the name of Konstantin, and I could not prevent myself from exhibiting my admiration for this gallant young hussar. My father laughed and grew thoughtful, finally he got up. He said he needed to stretch his legs, but I knew his character, he was distancing himself again. I stayed, sitting on the bench, and watched him stroll off. I thought of asking him if I should walk with him, but I already knew his reply. I saw his direction took him towards the lodge where our neighbours were living.

He stayed at their house for an hour or more and then did not come back home, but went off to the town. It was not until the evening that my father returned.

After dinner I went to see the Gabrelyanovs myself, however, I only found the old Princess Agnia. She beckoned me over and asked me to sit, then she presented a rather dirty sheet of paper. "Would you be so kind as to take this and copy me the petition?"

I could not refuse, and as she handed over the paper she told me to be certain to write clearly with large letters and "couldn't you do this today," she insisted.

As I left, petition in hand, I glimpsed the young Anoushka in her room, she stared back at me with somewhat chilly eyes, only a moment, before closing the door.

I spent my whole evening copying the old lady's petition.

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