Gaining time, ages of it: That’s how she had begun to feel recently. It was no longer an anxiety driven chase of minutes, or breaking down her days into portions of obligations and thinking too far ahead; so far ahead that she would forget to observe the very happening of time — and herself in it: unfolding, expanding, altering, learning to love. The tension that came from her knowledge that she was lacking, losing time would settle at the medial edges of her eyebrows, making her forehead feel like a heavy awning. For years, she had worn the weight of time on her face; and while the losses surmounted, as they do in any life, she found herself at a deficit of time for mourning.
Larisa stepped out of the church. The city, still moving slowly after the snowstorm, was gradually waking. Older women carried netted bags with groceries from the bazar; the men smoked. The young raced, chased, took for granted stretches and stretches of time. The sun had been beaming down; and although it didn’t have the strength to thaw out the iced pavements yet, the smells of eventual spring could already be detected in the air. Everything was beginning to exhale. Larisa smiled:
But, of course, change would come! It always did! In her memory, there was no specific day when this awareness had happened in her, no event that — again, with time — revealed its lesson: that she wasn’t really living all this time, but merely waiting for her days to end, wasting them on worry, on an anticipation of her own expiration and on counting up her lacks. Growing tired, perpetually tired, she found herself lacking patience. How could her life force fade so early on? And she was terrified of it: to lose the joy of living would make a life’s uselessness more daunting. She didn’t want to live with that. And she was not going to lose the hope! No, not the hope; not the sometimes demonstrative belief of hers that people were prone to goodness; and that even though she could never expect it, kindness would make its presence known, and it would lighten up at least some events with grace. Oh, but she needed to — she had to! — believe that!
Watching the rush of morning trolleys clunk past her, Larisa decided to walk. The cold stiffness of the air entered her lungs, brought on an alertness. The kindness hadn’t slept a wink that night. And so, she continued to roam through her city, with books in hand: the city which she hadn’t made her home yet, just a place where she would watch her youth unfold; but at any moment, she could give it up, take off again, the gravity of responsibilities not affecting her yet; and she could chose any place (she could go any place, really!); and the mere awareness of such freedom made the heart swell with tearful gratitude.
In that state, while absorbing the city from the top stair of the library building, she had met him. It was the music, at first, streaming out of the rolled down window of his car. She stopped to listen to it: Chopin? Debussy? In the gentle strokes of the piano movement, the city glistened. She stepped down and resumed her walk.
“I was just thinking myself, ‘Am I ready to part with this Blok collection?’” He had gotten out of the car and was now leaning against the passenger’s window at the back seat. Larisa smiled: Blok — Russia’s golden boy of poetry — had made her girlfriends swoon all through college. She studied the man’s face for a glimmer of ridicule: Had he seen her leaving the building with half a dozen of hard-bound (cloth) tomes, half of which she had renewed, unready to part with the moods, the atmosphere they proposed? But if anything, the man was smiling at his own expense, bashfully and maybe even seeking her opinion on the matter. She considered it, then spoke carefully:
“You should try some early Akhmatova.”
“Too tragic,” he responded, “especially for the end of this winter.”
That’s it! Right there, she knew exactly what she meant! But for the first time, she did’t catch herself forced into a space of controlled flirtation from which she could observe — but not always appreciate — the effects of her presence. How can I hold all this space now, she thought; how can I stand here, not putting up the heightened facade of my sex?
She couldn’t remember if it had ever been this easy before. Aloneness would still happen, of course, even if this were indeed the evidence of her change. It wouldn’t stop, neither would she want it to. But now it united, linked her to the rest of humanity; and even in the isolation of the specificity of her most private experiences, she would understand so much; and in that surrender (if only she could manage to not lose herself in fear again), she was certain she would find kindness.