A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


The days passed with the heat of summer and the buzzing of the insects and I saw little of Konstantin or the Gabrelyanovs. I had not stopped looking for him, as if by habit, I watched the track for approaching visitors to the lodge.

Then one day he was there and I strolled up to him and bade a fond greeting.

"It's you," he said, and took hold of my arm.

He led me back down the lane and through the little gate leading to the kitchen garden. And there we were, together all of a sudden, inside the deserted, almost ruined greenhouse. I was not expecting his humour, and was taken by complete surprise when he held me and grabbed hold of my hair, yanking my head backwards.

"Argh!" I cried. "It hurts."

"Does it? Why do you keep spying for me?"

"I... I don't," I said, knowing it was not true.

He let me go. "I'm sorry," he said.

My eyes were tearful. "I..." I stammered again. "I cannot help my emotions... And I thought you had some feeling for me?"

He took my head in his hands, pressing his palms to my cheeks, and wiping a tear with his thumb.

"It cannot work," he said, and turned and walked away.

I went home distraught, and came across my parents in the middle of an argument. My mother was reproaching my father over something or other, whilst he, with his usual calmness made no reply and kept a polite, but chill silence. I had no idea what the dispute was about, I arrived too late to hear anything and it was quickly ended. After he left, she called for me, and was still quite obviously angry. Whether with me or my father it is difficult to say, but she made it known she was not at all pleased with my frequent calls to our neighbours. I said nothing when I might have told her I had not been there of late, but I was already too upset by my encounter with Konstantin. She re-emphasised her poor opinion of the Gabrelyanovs, and I was not certain which of the princesses she was describing when she said she was a woman capable of anything. Most probably it was Princess Anoushka's mother, but it was unclear, still I did not stay to find out, and went off to my room.

Once alone, I lay on my bed thinking about Konstantin and desperately trying to imagine why he had acted the way he did, but I could find no understanding. Vyacheslav had, I thought, made some point about our situation, but he was never clear, or else was simply not the sort of person to be explicit. Then again I may have completely misunderstood, both him, and Konstantin. I have to confess I was lost, muddled, and perturbed, and so sought a certain comfort in solitude and seclusion. I was particularly fond of the old ruined greenhouse as a place of escape. Often I sat there alone with my melancholy thoughts and imaginings, feeling sorry for myself, and revelling in mournful sensations. Other times I wandered around outside and might stop to peer in and watch the workers in the factory. It was a kind of idle curiosity about their lives, especially those young apprentices, of whom one or two were quite attractive in a certain sense. This was a supposed distraction, but did not really serve the purpose of such because it provoked other emotions, feelings, and wild fictions in my tormented mind.

Quite unintentionally one day whilst wandering I saw Konstantin and he saw me. I was sitting on the stone wall, but not watching for him or anyone else. However, it was too late to jump down and run away because he called to me.

"Hey there!" he shouted. "Come here!"

I did as commanded and jumped down. I ran to him, uncertain if he would be glad to meet me or angry to have once again come across me as if I were stalking him like a hunter his prey, but I truthfully, was not. Overcome by these thoughts fighting each other, I was not careful and stepped awkwardly as I drew close to him, losing my footing. I would have fallen had he not moved quickly towards me and grabbed me with both arms. We stood there, his arms wrapped around me, his body pressed against mine. I was breathing heavily and found little strength in my legs to support myself. Before I could recover he lifted me up and he bent his head to look at me, I could not look away, but closed my eyes as if I had fainted. I am quite certain he knew I had not fallen unconscious, however he remained holding me, and then I felt his soft moist lips graze my own and I was startled awake.

He laughed, "You do really love me don't you?" he said, and I didn't know what to say.

His hand brushed through my hair and he touched my flushed cheeks. I stared into his eyes and it was as if I were transported, nothing else in my life mattered, perhaps nothing else existed, I felt we were alone together, the two of us, a dream. The feeling of rapture I experienced in that moment has never come a second time in my life, I was aware of a sweet ache in my limbs, my mind was floating. Then I heard the bells ringing far off in the distance and I drifted back to awareness of where I was. I stood watching as Konstantin turned and walked away towards the lodge.

I might not be certain what I described was real and not imagined were it not for the smile on his lips and the look in his eyes. I was so happy, so full of joy, I ran, and jumped, and skipped and danced in the garden.

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