"How could I possibly let you face this danger alone?" I answered. "Besides, all of Russia might be in danger. If I can help to save your life, and Nicolai's, and the life of your people, I will gladly come. But can it be done? You just said that no one has entered the area so far. It may be sealed off."
"Not officially," she whispered in my ear while we danced. She asked me to kiss her now and then. "The officially orchestrated denial of the incidence may give us a chance to get there first. Everything is already arranged. We are invited to a research station in the area. We will travel as tourists. You, being a rich American, will provide the needed excuse and financing to stage a private expedition to explore the area, to observe the reindeer population. Afterwards, after we found the object and have examined it, we are to report back to Nicolai. Fred has helped us with the financing of the mission."
"Fred knows about this?"
"He knows none of the details. He trusts Nicolai. He knows about the secrecy."
She told me that it was Nicolai's idea to send me on this mission as a rich American, and to have her accompany me as my guide and interpreter. She said, this trust was his way of saying thanks.
"For convincing me to give marriage a try. We will be married in July, in Nicolai's home town." She spoke somewhat louder now. "You are all invited - Sylvia, Ross, Tony, Fred, and of course, Heather too. You are family to me, my side of the family. Besides, Nicolai wants a big wedding."
"Now what did I have to do with that?" I almost protested.
"Remember the symphony and its finale that will never end? It provides space for moving ahead, for bringing Nicolai up to that level. Now let me tell you something that you'll be proud of, something that shook the bureaucracy, but which Nicolai strongly supported."
"Let me guess," I stopped the dance, "You are going to retain your maiden name! Right?"
"Right! But how did you guess?"
"I almost didn't notice it, Anton. Now, it makes sense. Your name was printed like that on the dinner invitation; Nicolai Vasily and Antonovna Valentina, Berendeyev Lisitov."
"Oh you!!!" she punched me.
"Don't you think I would have guessed it anyway?" I defended myself. "You always liked to use your full name. How could you just give it up? It's your symbol of autonomy. You're far too proud of being yourself, that you would give up your identity and take on that of another."
"Oh you!!!" she said again. "Here, I was going to surprise you."
"Oh, you did surprise me," I replied. "Why didn't you say something about that in Caracas?"
"It was of no great importance to us, then." She said this with the gentlest smile.
It was lovely to see her excitement as she spoke about these things. She was one woman whom marriage would not change, and yet the very idea seemed to have changed her. She was as radiantly lovely and enthusiastic about everything, and as free as she had been that night when we first met in the same restaurant over a dozen years ago, when the world was so much simpler. And there was another thing about her that was also still the same. She wore the same type of black velvet dress, that she had worn for our first dinner, and the same type of blouse that matched the color of her hair. It was as if she was saying that nothing had happened in the meantime, though a whole new world had opened up to us. Also the view out of the window was still as I had remembered it. The Red Square was as white with snow as it had been then.
I would have loved to query Nicolai about the mission as freely as we had discussed the world in earlier times. I knew that this would not be possible now. Apparently, what was happening was too important to risk any more talk about it. It appeared wise to be patient. Consequently, not another word was spoken on the subject throughout the dinner, at least not directly. Still, I sensed that Nicolai was as impatient to talk, as I was to hear his story.
When we were seated at the Bolshoi it seemed to me that Nicolai did find a way to talk about what lay at the very heart of the mission. He did this in a way that even the FBI would not have been able to decipher. We had come in good time. The place was still largely empty. Some people were starting to get seated on the floor below us. So far, no one had joined us in our box. This seemed to trouble Nicolai, so he spoke a bit louder than he normally would.
"Let me tell you the story of the Nutcracker ballet," he said to me.
"I know the story," I replied.
"Ah, then allow me to prove you wrong," he said and grinned. "You don't know the Nutcracker until you come to see in it the very soul of Russia. Then you know; and you will know Russia. Allow me to guide you."
"Did you ever walk through a quiet city at night, alone, pondering about something important?" he asked. " And if you did, did you feel the eerie emptiness of the deserted streets?"
I nodded, again.
"Then, tell me what music came to your mind in this dark, silent, emptiness?" he asked. "But let me warn you, I don't want to hear the Nutcracker as an answer."
I told him that I had found the emptiest streets in Leipzig, a long time ago. I was alone. I had a perplexing paradox puzzle out, then. "But the music that I would associate with that, isn't Russian," I said. "Did you ever hear the music of Philip Glass?" I asked. "One of Philip Glass' compositions is the kind of music that would bring forth such a feeling. Glass composed a suite of thirteen melodies for solo saxophone. The saxophone sounds clear and distinct against such an empty silence. In this setting Glass' melodies explore the emptiness. The music echoes the kind of mind that searches for answers in the lonely silence of the night."
"I didn't ask for a Russian melody," Nicolai replied and approved my answer. "Music is the language of the soul and that spans all borders."
I nodded again.
"Now picture yourself being alone in the wide open spaces of the Russian country site in the deepest winter," Nicolai requested. "The lush fields of summer have been transformed into a snow and ice crusted dessert. As far as the eye can behold nothing stirs, but the blowing, wind-driven snow. Would Philip Glass' melodies still be appropriate?" he asked.
It faintly dawned on me that they would be, and I told him so.
He asked me to imagine being there, and to be listening to these melodies of emptiness and voiceless silence where nothing stirs that hints of life, much less human life. Then he asked me to imagine seeing the outline of a small town, far in the distance. "Then, as you come nearer," he added, "a new kind of music becomes appropriate, don't you agree? Here the music of the Nutcracker begins. You can see children at play near the town, on a frozen lake perhaps. Perhaps, they are laughing as they skate across the frozen surface, like fairy princes, and princesses, because this is what they are. Please note, you have now entered a world that is totally alien to the ice crusted dessert. In this dessert the human world of that village exists like a tiny oasis of life set into an empty land. Then, imagine that you enter one of the houses. It is Christmas. The house is aglow with the light of many candles, and is being warmed by a great fire. What a rich place you have found! This place seems light-years away from the larger world, the ice crusted dessert, in which it exists. But, here, the magic only begins. The children receive gifts from those by whom they are loved. One of these is a nutcracker carved out of wood that was presented to the oldest of the princesses of the family, by an eccentric relative, Drosselmeyer."
|| - page index -
|| - chapter index -
|| - Exit -