A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


I cannot properly describe what passed within me over the course of the next week, it was a strange sort of chaos, a peculiar mixture of hope, joy, thoughts, and suspicions. I was immersed in a whirlwind of emotions like a thunderous storm and soon events would change my life forever. I was afraid of myself and what might happen, I was caught up in the life of the Gabrelyanovs, torn apart by my feelings for Konstantin, and I was soon to be devastated by the revelation of my new found companion.

Spartak and I passed much time together, we played and romped, and swam in the lake, and we talked together late into the evening. His family allowed him much liberty and I did exactly as his sister had asked, I took him under my wing and we became great friends. It was a very easy thing to accomplish, because I immediately felt comfortable with him, and spending my time with him was a pleasure. He became the little brother I never had and had always secretly longed for, someone to look after and take care of. He confided in me, first, when he told me he was not a very good swimmer. That was obvious, he splashed in the water more than swam, but he was courageous and never gave into his fear, although he was happy I was there next to him, to help and encourage. In a more practical fashion, I held him in the water and stayed next to him as a kind of lifeguard. That week he made huge progress and found a confidence with which to bury his fear of the water.

As one day followed the next we lost any thought of inhibitions and would dry off lying naked side by side in the long grass by the lakeside. It was on such a warm sunny afternoon he told me how unhappy he was at school. "It is a harsh, cold, and unforgiving place," he said, and recounted his memory of his first days there. At eleven he had been sent away to the cadet school, the first time he had been away from home on his own, and he said, "I learnt very soon to be wary."

"To be wary?" I asked.

"Yes, people can be cruel and play tricks on you."

I wished to know more, not from idle curiosity, but because I felt protective towards him and wanted to understand.

He retold an event that marked his arrival at the school, he said every new boy went through the same, but that was hardly any consolation. The senior boys, in his case there were two, took charge of what was a kind of bizutage. They said he must tell the truth or accept the consequences, it was a ritual, a friend had warned him, "Every new boy gets a thrashing." These senior boys, he said, were my age, sixteen, and one in particular took great delight in his torment. I became angry simply listening to his story. "Two questions," the one senior boy told him, "And you must answer truthfully." The first question was, "Do you believe me when I say I always tell the truth?"

Spartak didn't even need to think before he answered, "Yes, I believe you."

The older boy had a wicked grin on his face and he picked up a cane which had been lying on the desk, he obviously intended to draw his attention to it and invoke fear and apprehension.

"I know that you father is a liar, a fraud, and a card cheat, is that true?" the senior boy asked.

"No, it is not," young Spartak replied immediately.

There was a pause as the two older boys circled around him. "So, you are saying I lied? Which means, when you said you believe I always tell the truth, you lied."

Spartak was trapped, but he was not so stupid. "No!" he insisted.

"How so?" The older boy demanded.

"I don't think you are lying. You believe what you have told me, only it isn't true," Spartak said.

"How can it not be true if I am telling the truth?" The older boy was getting angry.

"Because you believe it to be true, but that doesn't make it so, you may be mistaken."

And that sent the older boy into a rage because he had been outsmarted by an inferior, and a new boy to boot.

"If I had been truly clever I would have said nothing and acted stupid," Spartak told him. "Making him angry only made the beating worse."

"I'm sorry," I said.

During the week I also saw Konstantin, usually in the evening when he was visiting the Gabrelyanovs and I was returning with Spartak. I came to realise that I had a lot of love within me, and my emotions were running wild and playing with my heart. Whilst I was grateful for sharing time together with Spartak, and with him I could be myself and let run the child still within me, I longed to be close with Konstantin.

At home I did not pay attention to what was happening between my parents, not until one day when I learnt with amazement I was to dine alone. There must have been something extraordinary which had happened, never before had both my parents been absent at the same time. I learnt later, by persisting with the house maid with whom I was quite friendly, something about what had taken place. Mila, the house maid, had been in the service of a dressmaker from Paris, she had overheard my parents arguing, and whilst much of what was said was in French, she understood it all. My mother was angry with my father over money he had apparently given to the old Princess Agnia, which he had at first denied and then admitted, but gave no reason, simply dismissed my mother's objections. Of course, I already knew what my mother's opinion of our neighbours was, so how she felt was no surprise, but why my father had taken offence and left the house was completely out of character. He was usually so calm and did not get angry, certainly not to the point of walking out of the house. I concluded there must be more to this than a simple row over money, and why in any case, would my father be loaning money.

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