Be it from a life-long deprivation of male attention or grandma Tanya’s diagnosis of Galina’s “messed-up nerves”, cuz’s hormones went berserk as soon as she dropped out of school after the sixth grade. In all fairness, there was not much use to furthering her education, Galina’s parents presumed: After the accident, she wasn’t bound for big things any longer. And the Russian inbred understanding that one was born into one’s circumstances — and no amount of prayer, chance or hard work would transcend a citizen into a higher, more fortunate caste — spiraled Galina’s life into one of a peasant. She would be following her parents’ path, and in that, no comrade could find much tragedy.
“But I’m going to marry!” she announced one Sunday morning, on the steps of a neighboring town’s church. The other girls-in-waiting surrounded and teased her for the name of her future husband. (Competition makes women one mean lot, especially when they are those middle-ground, okay-looking ones that hold onto their men with their teeth and fear.) But Galina remained secretive, as if she were the best of Soviet spies.
“You don’t have no fiance yet!” the young women challenged. I mean: Had she fallen off the rocker?! Who did she think she was?! Engagements took months to set up. Dozens of chaperone shifts were arranged by the elders. Sunday’s best, collected by the girl’s parents throughout her life, were dug out of the familial traveling trunks, washed and ironed, and put to use. And the honing of womanly duties — by the river bank where other housewives rinsed their laundry and in the kitchen; by the married women’s lectures on the suddenly poignant topics of personal hygiene and the horrors of their wedding nights — these things demanded serious commitment and courage on a girl’s part!
“It takes a lot of work to lure a man!” the girls-in-waiting lectured the crippled simpleton. There was no way she presented much competition! And they supposed they would’ve just let her dream on, had she not perturbed them with such a silly idea, in the first place.
And they did have a point: No one had ever seen Galina starch her petticoats or outline her eyes with sharpened charcoal sold at the department store, to which one had to ride a bus for two and a half kilometers. In the later part of summer, Galina had yet to travel to other women’s homes to help them pickle cabbage or to cure pork belly in salt baths whenever a local family decided to lessen its livestock count. And neither was she known to possess any skill mending socks or warding off a bad eye. She wasn’t in the know on how to start up a stove or a banya, for a man. She couldn’t brew home-made liquor or even a jar kvas. Such skills were expected of any bride, especially from one that could’t bewitch a man based on her looks alone.
“So what?!” Galina obnoxiously defended herself. She was an innocent, but any challenge against her word of truth — and she could throw a fit which even the devil would overhear. “My dad’s already traveled to three dinners two towns over!” she continued bragging. “He says even the chairman of the collective farm over there could be interested. (He’s got a handsome son, didn’t you know?)”
How much truth there was to Galina’s aspirations — no one knew for certain. But Galina’s father — an alcoholic who freelanced around town to clean people’s outhouses, or to build new ones — was not to be taken lightly, at least by the townsmen; for quite a sizable physique did uncle Pavel have on him! The man was a giant, barely fitting into doorways; and he was gossiped to have never shared a bed with his wife because there just wasn’t enough room for two. Pavel was known to sleep in the cow stable; and that is exactly where, according to the gossip, Galina had to have been conceived.
Every night, Pavel raised hell with vodka on his breath. Galina’s mother Masha had begun to lock him out of the house; and at dawn, she searched the village’s ditches and liquor store alleys and dragged her alcoholic giant home (where she would deposit him into the cow stable yet again).
So, even though Galina’s self-proclaimed bridal status appeared absurd to most, one had to consider the fear Pavel imposed on young grooms-in-the-making. And there were other factors to consider, as well:
“She does collect a sizeable pension,” the townswomen speculated after the news of Galina’s betrothal began to spread. “Not a bad deal for a dowry!”
Others approached the subject with medical facts: “Lord knows, so deprived her womanly parts have been, for all these year! I bet she’s not too difficult to bed.”
The women giggled. The subject of sex was not a frequent one in the idealistic minds of Soviet citizens. Like anywhere else in the world, men wanted it; but it was entirely a responsibility of the women to a. to put out or to hold out, and b. protect themselves in the process. But even with one’s gynecologist, it was inappropriate to comfortably, openly discuss such matters. So, to be born pretty was a questionable blessing, for a Russian girl. But to be born smart — to know how to negotiate her worth before the broken hymen, to smoothly transition herself from under the care of her father to that of her husband — that, in the eyes of women and their mothers, was a much more important entity. (So, that part about sex being enjoyable — in some women’s lives, they never knew of it. Enjoyment was left to the other types of women: the loose ones, the ones that every town had and loved to judge; and in the cities, they were the second “wives” that some husbands kept on the side, on weeknights.)