Alexandra Kollontai's Red Love
Vasya was standing before the locked door of her former attic, where Grusha was living now. She knocked. Downstairs they had told her that Grusha had come home from work. But the door was locked. Where was Grusha?
Could she be asleep?
She turned, to see Grusha coming down the hall with a kettle of hot water.
“Vassilissa! Dearest! When did you come? So unexpected!”
Setting the teakettle on the floor, Grusha embraced Vasya.
“Do come in. It’s your attic after all. I owe my living here only to you. Only wait until I open the door. They steal in this house – it’s terrible. I even lock the door when I go for water. Not long ago they took a coat that was hanging in Furyashkin’s room. A fall coat, absolutely new. He turned the entire house upside down, and even got the police. But they didn’t find anything.
“So, you’re home now, Vassilissa! Take off your wraps, wash off the dust of your trip. I was just going to make tea. Do you want something to eat? I have eggs, bread, and some apples.”
Home? Grusha had said she was at home. But could people like Vasya have a “home”?
She looked about. The attic was so familiar. But it wasn’t Vasya’s attic any more. There was a sewing machine, a dressmaker’s model in the corner, pieces of cloth lying about, scraps and short threads on the floor. The walls were bare. Neither Marx nor Lenin, nor the group of tenants celebrating the founding of the community house. Instead, a faded red paper fan. Beside it, a postcard with the picture of an egg and a golden inscription: “Christ hath arisen.” An ikon in the corner. Grusha was not a member of the Party. She believed in God and observed the fasts, although she was in favor of the Soviet Government and had many friends among the Communists. She had been engaged to be married; but her fiancee had gone with the Whites, had probably been killed. And if he had been killed, the chances were he had been put to death by the Red Guards. That was why Grusha refused to become a Communist. She cherished the memory of her lover.
“If I should join you he would curse me in the other world.”
Before, Vasya had been unable to understand Grusha. How could she love a White? But now she knew that the heart would not obey orders. Vladimir and she had come to the parting of the ways; but her love still was alive, gave her no peace.
Grusha was glad that Vassilissa had come home. She didn’t know which would be the best place to give her. She fairly overwhelmed her with news, and wondered why Vasya hadn’t gained when she was with her husband. She had come back as thin as she had been, if not thinner. Vasya said nothing. She had thought that when she would see Grusha she would fall into her arms and, weeping, tell her all her troubles. But when they met, Vasya could not open her mouth, could find no words. How could she tell anyone about this sorrow?
The news of Vassilissa’s arrival spread throughout the house. The old tenants were delighted, while the new ones were curious to see what she was like. One of the members of the House Committee grumbled that now she probably would want to get into the administration again. The first to come to Grusha’s room were the children, Vasya’s old friends of the Children’s Club.
The older among them immediately had a complaint to lodge: the Children’s Club had been broken up at the time of the Nep. They had said it didn’t pay, and that the rooms were needed for other purposes. But where could the children do their lessons now? Their collections had been broken up and their library had been scattered; some of it had even been sold.
Vasya listened. Was such a thing possible? She bridled at once. She would not let the matter rest. She would go immediately to the Party Committee, to the Educational and Housing Bureaus. Let the Nep attend to its own business; but let it keep its hands off the things the workers had built up laboriously.
“I’ll fight them. I won’t permit such a thing. Don’t worry, children; I’ll see to it that you get what’s coming to you, even if I have to go to Moscow for it.”
The older boys laughed with delight. They believed in Vasya. She would surely attend to it; she was going to fight now. The whole house knew her as “the fighter”. That was as it should be. The children were all for Vassilissa.
After the children the old tenants came in to greet her. But the moment they had said: “Good afternoon,” each of them had an urgent request to make of her, everyone had his troubles and wanted to tell her about them. Vasya listened patiently to them all. As always, she was interested in everything, advised and consoled them.
The attic was so crowded that it was impossible to turn around.
“Wait a little, Comrades,” pleaded Grusha. “You’re not giving her a chance to eat. And she’s tired, after traveling for so many nights. But you have to come in with your affairs, and get her all mixed up.”
“Don’t, Grusha. Never mind. I’m not at all tired. What were you telling me, Timofei Timofeiyevitch? Oh yes, about the taxes you’re supposed to pay. How can that be? You’re no property owner, nor an employer or manager...”
As she uttered the word “manager” she thought of Volodya. But her pain was submerged in the troubles of others. She had no time for it.
Her old friends went away, one by one; and, forgetting her weariness, Vasya decided to go to Party Headquarters and get to work immediately.
She buttoned her coat, listening to Grusha’s news the while. One man had married, another had left the Party; this girl had become a member of the Council. Suddenly they heard the voice of the Fedosseyev woman, resounding through the hall.
“Where’s our darling, our defender? My precious Vassilissa Dementyevna!” She threw her arms around Vasya’s neck, and covered her with moist kisses. At the same time bitter tears were rolling down her cheeks and wet Vasya’s face.
“I waited for you so long, dearest! I’ve been so lonesome for you! I waited for you as for the sunshine. When Vassilissa Dementyevna, our protector, comes back she’ll straighten out everything. When she’s here the wretch won’t dare make his wife a laughing-stock. He’ll be ashamed to disgrace the entire house with that slut. She’ll sympathize with me because I have to take care of the little children all by myself. She’ll take him to court. At least he’ll have to submit to the Party. You, our darling, you’re my only hope.”
As a rule Vasya was able to divide the troubles of others from a few words. But this time she couldn’t quite make out what the Fedosseyev woman was wailing about. Of whom was she complaining? Vasya saw that she had changed a great deal, almost beyond recognition. She had been a young, robust, full-bosomed woman – now she had grown thin, old and yellow.
What sorrow was breaking her heart?
Fedosseyev had entered on a love affair with Dora, an “unbaptized” Jewess. He wanted to have nothing to do with his wife, made her the laughing-stock of the entire district. No one could make him ashamed of himself. He had left his own children, was bringing everything to his sweetheart. Here, little girl, that’s for you! Let the family die in their corner! Only don’t chase me away, me, your pock-marked lover.
“What in the world did that goose Dora see in him?” shrieked the Fedosseyev woman. “If he were a real man... ! But he’s disgusting. He’s so damned filthy! I put up with him for eight years, kissed his pock-marked phiz for the children’s sake. Vassilyevitch, I thought, you’re an ass, but fate brought us together and the Church married us, so I’ll have to stand you. When he would be insistent, he’d make me sick. But I endured him, never looked at anyone else. I thought he’d be grateful to me. I gave all my youth to the filthy beast; and that’s what I get for it! I lost my good looks, and he ran after that girl. He had to get mixed up with a Jewish girl! It’s a disgrace for the whole district.”
The Fedosseyev woman wept uncontrollably. Vasya listened; and her own heart seemed filled with a dark flood. Here she found her own grief and indignation all over again. She shuddered with disgust. Where had her pluck gone? She no longer felt any desire to go to the Party Committee. She wanted only to bury her head in her pillow, and to see nothing more.
The other, however, continued to sob, to kiss Vassilissa’s shoulder, to beg her to bring her husband to reason and to defend the interests of the little children. She should threaten him with a court trial.
As she went home from Party Headquarters, Vasya was surrounded by her Comrades. They couldn’t stop talking. And Vasya felt so happy and gay. She had forgotten everything, as if she had never lived for or worried about anything but the Party.
She had grown excited, had quarreled and stood her ground; she had asked questions about everything, and had found out just how the land lay. It had interested and satisfied her. Her head was working, her soul seemed to rise.
She hurried up to her attic without noticing the stairs. Only then she felt her weariness.
While Grusha was preparing supper Vasya lay down on the bed, and fell asleep at once.
Grusha looked at her friend, undecided as to whether she should wake her. She felt sorry for her. Vasya was exhausted; let her sleep.
She undressed Vasya as though she were a child, took off her shoes, and covered her. She hung a shade over the light, and sat down to sew button-holes.
Who the devil could be coming now? Grusha muttered angrily. They never let a person alone.
She opened the door. There stood Fedosseyev, the husband.
“What do you want?”
“I want to see Vassilissa Dementyevna. Is she at home?”
“Are you all crazy? She’s had a long trip; she’s tired, hasn’t had a chance to sleep – and you fall on her like a pack of hungry dogs on a bone. Vassilissa Dementyevna is asleep.”
Grusha and Fedosseyev had words. Fedosseyev was obstinate, but Grusha refused to let him in. Tomorrow. They agreed on the next day.
She banged the door in Fedosseyev’s face. A damned filthy fellow. Had a wife and three children, and Dora was big, too. It was beyond Grusha.
She considered that Fedosseyev was in the wrong. And she condemned Dora, too. Why had she started anything with a married man? Weren’t there enough bachelors? Grusha’s morals were very strict. She kept within bounds; for she still remembered her lover.
When Vasya woke up she felt calm and at peace with the world. The autumn sun was shining through the window, throwing a golden light on the seamstress. Grusha was heating her flatiron on the petroleum stove; she was going to iron a dress.
“For whom is it?”
“For a member of the Executive Committee, for a birthday party.”
“What? Are they celebrating birthdays nowadays?”
“I should say so! You ought to see them – it’s better than it used to be with the rich people. The table is covered with appetizers, wine, whiskey...” Grusha’s iron was hissing; she had no time to talk. Vasya stretched on the bed. She remembered it well. It was hard and narrow; yet she had slept in it together with Volodya. How had they ever had room? Now they had been in each other’s way even in a wide bed.
It had been different in the old days.
Was her misery trying to creep into her heart again, to disturb her peace of mind? No, everything was quiet in her heart. The calm that follows a storm.
Grusha remembered the appointment with Fedosseyev, and told Vasya about it.
“I don’t care. Let him come.”
She didn’t want to have too much to do with the Fedosseyevs. She seemed offended because gossips had been overtaken by the same misfortune as she.
She inquired about Dora. Who was she?
“Don’t you remember her?” Grusha was amazed. “She’s dark and pretty – she danced with the tambourine at the Komsomolsk celebration.”
Now Vasya recalled her. Very favorably. She had worked in the tanners’ Cultural Committee. A clever girl; and her youth was no drawback. Besides, she sang well. How could the Fedosseyev woman think of comparing with her?
Grusha’s view was different. She condemned Dora; the laws had to be observed. If the Communists were to permit husbands to act that way, all the men would desert their wives and little children, and would take on young girls. The Party was going to take proceedings against Dora.
“Take proceedings against her? Only the Fedosseyev woman could be behind that. A disgusting creature!” Vasya defended Dora. “No law could force a man to live with a woman he doesn’t love. Do you want to force him to embrace that woman? Even though he loathes her? Even though she’s a common sneak?”
Vasya was quite wrought up. She was furious with the Fedosseyev woman; and why? She hardly knew herself. As she fought about the Fedosseyevs she thought of Vladimir. As she defended Dora she saw the white lace parasol and Nina’s red lips.
Grusha was surprised to see Vassilissa siding with Fedosseyev.
“You act as if they were your best friends. Weren’t you always railing against them? You know how much trouble they caused you. Of course, it’s your own affair; but I’d advise you to keep out of this business. There’s no use in getting mixed up in a dog fight.”
Vasya was stubborn. She would stand up for Dora if there were proceedings against her. “Tell me, if you please: does Fedosseyev’s legal wife think she’s the only one who has rights? No. She’s mistaken. There are other rights, not dictated by human laws. They are the commands of the heart.”
As Grusha pressed the hem of the dress she looked. at Vasya attentively, as if to read her friend’s innermost thoughts.
Vasya frowned. Why did Grusha object? Wasn’t Vasya right? Could any law dictate to the heart?
“Who said so? The heart is most important of all. You can’t be human if you haven’t a heart. But as I look at you now I see clearly that you’re heart-sick, too, Vassilissa, that you’re suffering. That’s why you’re defending Fedosseyev. You're thinking of your man, aren’t you? And you want to find an excuse for him. I’m right.”
Vasya said nothing, but bowed her head.
Grusha asked no more questions. Taking the dress from the ironing-board she shook it out and picked off the loose threads. Now it was finished.
“Are you through?” asked Vasya, thinking of something quite different.
“Well, then I’ll go to the Party Committee. Let Fedosseyev wait.”
Now came days of hard work for Vassilissa. She was preparing to leave for the weaving works. She conferred with Stepan Alexeyevitch, acquainted herself with her instructions, and spent her evenings at meetings of her responsible co-workers. The hours passed so quickly that she had no time to think, or to listen to her heart.
And then she had her new worries, about the Fedosseyevs and Dora. They and their difficulties gave Vasya no rest.
Fedosseyev had come to her, and had told her everything.
He had met Dora Abramovna in the Cultural Committee. He had been singing in the chorus. Dora Abramovna liked his bass, and took him to a music teacher. She was a musician herself. And she had brought him into the Cultural Committee. That was how it had begun. But his wife soon got wind of it, and then there was trouble.
Fedosseyev complained about his wife; she was spreading all sorts of rumors, and was setting the Comrades against Dora Abramovna. She was wailing that Dora was “robbing” her family, and was letting Fedosseyev support her. The truth was quite the opposite. Not only did Dora refuse to accept a single kopek from Fedosseyev, but she even helped the family, sharing everything with them. She thought of the children, too, had brought the younger ones into the kindergarten, and had given textbooks and copybooks to the oldest boy, who went to school. Of course she didn’t want the wife to know that. Besides, she had made a shirt and tie for Fedosseyev to wear to the concerts. But the malicious gossips had it just the other way.
Fedosseyev was grieved on Dora’s account. It wouldn’t hurt him. But he was worried about her, lest she get into difficulties with the Party because of him. It was all his wife’s fault; she insisted on being in their way.
Listening to Fedosseyev, Vasya couldn’t help thinking of Vladimir and Nina. They too had suffered like this, had sought a way out, had been angry at Vasya because she prevented them from being happy. She had advised the Fedosseyev woman to get out of the way of her own accord. It was impossible to block the happiness of others; no matter how many barriers you would put in its path, you couldn’t keep it from flying over your head. But what was Vasya herself doing? Was not she, too, standing in the way? Was she not still standing guard over the happiness that had been?
Fedosseyev loved Dora. When he spoke of her his face seemed to shine. She had seen the same change in Vladimir when he thought of Nina.
“Dora Abramovna has a heart of gold. In the union everybody’s fond of her, too. Those who don’t belong to the Party don’t think it’ll take any action against her. But if it does, they’ll be only too happy. ‘Let her come to us independents; we’ll take Dora Abramovna’s part, never fear!’ ”
Fedosseyev had hardly left Vasya when his wife caught hold of her, kissed her shoulders, and begged her to be on her side.
Vasya, who didn’t like Fedosseyeva, crossly waved her away. Whereupon she filled the entire house with her shouting about Dora, about her husband, and about Vasya, abusing all three of them at once.
Vasya met Dora at Party headquarters. They found a corner where the typists were busily pounding away at their machines, where the noise permitted them to talk without being overheard.
Dora was pretty, with clever eyes. Vasya liked her.
She was trying to hide her pregnancy with a shawl.
Dora began to speak of her own accord. Not of herself, but of Fedosseyev. She looked after him, esteemed him, admired his talent; his voice was excellent, as good as Chaliapin’s. All he needed was to study. That was why Dora wanted to marry him. So that he could break away from his family and from his cobbling, so that he could devote himself entirely to his singing.
But although she spoke highly of Fedosseyev Dora also bewailed his indecision. As long as he was with her he was prepared to do anything, fully determined to leave his wife and put through the divorce. But as soon as he came home it was finished. He would give in, and she would have to begin all over again. She had been working on him for so many months! And unsuccessfully.
Vasya grew disturbed as she listened to Dora. Might not Nina have spoken of Vladimir in the same way?
Dora didn’t care a rap for all the formalities of divorce and marriage. It was all nonsense in her eyes; she favored a free union. But Fedosseyeva would never let them live in peace unless they were registered in the Commissariat; therefore Dora was making the most of her being ‘in the family way’ to move Fedosseyev and induce him to get the divorce. She wasn’t afraid of motherhood. She would be able to take care of herself without a husband too.
To move him? To force him to get the divorce? Had Nina done that, too? Dora, praising Fedosseyev, was expecting Vasya to voice her approval.
But Vasya was thinking of her own troubles. Dora saw only the good in Fedosseyev. Nina probably loved Vladimir in the same way. Vasya was different. She saw Vladimir’s bad points, too. She loved him and suffered for his faults; they distressed her, and she wanted to reform him. Might this not have hurt Volodya?
“Why does his wife cling to him so?” Dora spoke wrathfully. “Because they used to love each other? But that was so long ago! Now there’s nothing to keep them together. She doesn’t really know him – she can’t appreciate him – she doesn’t understand him at all!”
Ah, thought Vasya, that’s how it was with Vladimir and me. He didn’t know what I wanted, and I couldn’t understand his ideas. Our paths went off in different directions.
“He’s a stranger to his wife; they’re different in every respect – in their tastes and in their ideals. She wants to keep him as a husband, but she doesn’t need him as a man. He’s not essential in her life.”
And she, Vasya – did she need Vladimir as a man? Was he essential to her?
As she asked herself this question her heart answered distinctly: No, she did not need him – not as he was now. But Dora could not help going on: “What sort of love is that? They can’t bear each other. It’s a cat-and-dog life. Every man for himself. Neither friendship, nor faith in each other.”
Yes, thought Vasya. Yes; neither friendship, nor faith in each other.
“And we, Comrade Fedosseyev and I, understand each other as if we had only one heart, one soul.”
So that was the love of Vladimir and Nina.
Vasya seemed to understand it only now. She grew thoughtful.
She had much to do. Urgent Party affairs, preparations for her departure. Yet she didn’t forget the Fedosseyevs. She did her best to hasten the divorce, tried to reconcile Fedosseyev with his Comrades, and to defend Dora.
All this seemed important, very important for Vasya. She couldn’t explain why.
Vasya was hurrying home from Party headquarters. She was to leave for the weaving works the next day. Her head was whirling. How reorganize the work, follow orders and adapt herself to the many who didn’t belong to the Party? The independents were just like the Communists nowadays. They wanted to penetrate more and more deeply into everything, to investigate everything themselves. They took nothing on faith. If you didn’t have a sound basis for your statements you might just as well not talk to them.
Her head was full of all this. She seemed to have forgotten her heartache. She felt as if she had never lost her man, her friend – as if she had not lived through an entire summer as “the manager’s lady”.
Vasya hurried along. She had had nothing to eat since morning. And when she thought of food she felt sick, everything seemed to grow dark, her head was reeling. How long? Was she going to be ill, or...
A suspicion rose in her mind. It was almost three months since her last period. Oughtn’t she to look up Marya Andreyevna, the physician? She lived right here, in one of the side streets. They had worked together in the organization of the nursery for the community houses. She would have to find out what the trouble was. Vasya couldn’t go to her new work if she was sick.
She turned into the side street, went up to the little white house, and rang the bell. The physician, Marya Andreyevna, opened the door herself.
“How in the world did you happen to come here? Is it a business matter, or do you want my professional advice?”
Vasya was on pins and needles; she felt embarrassed, and even blushed.
After watching her carefully for a while Marya Andreyevna put her hand on her shoulder.
“Come into my office – I’ll examine you.”
Marya Andreyevna inquired about Vasya’s appetite, her periods, her dizziness. She seemed to know everything in advance. She examined Vasya.
It was disagreeable and embarrassing for Vasya. She had never consulted a gynecologist before. She was almost frightened when she had to sit down on the examination chair.
As she dressed, her hands trembled so that she couldn’t fasten the hooks.
Marya Andreyevna stood before the wash-stand in her white smock, and painstakingly scrubbed her hands with soap and a brush.
For a while neither spoke.
“Well, dear Comrade Vassilissa, I don’t know whether you’ll be glad or sorry, but there’s no doubt about it. You’re in the family way.”
Vasya was surprised. But in a moment a smile flitted over her face. A baby? That would be nice.
“Will you go back to your husband now?” asked the white-smocked physician as she dried her hands on an embroidered towel.
“To my husband? No.” Vasya shook her head. “I’m not going back to him – we’ve separated. Each of us is going his own way.”
“You’ve separated? This is a fine time for it! How will you arrange things now? We may yet be able to stop the business. What do you say? Where will you go all alone with your child? You’re not strong."
“I’m not alone, though. Tomorrow I’m leaving for the weaving works. There’s a fine group there, mostly women, weavers. We’ll all work together there, organize a nursery. Oh, yes, that’s what I wanted to ask you: how did you make the nursery self-supporting? Tell me about it, please, and advise me.”
They discussed the nursery, subsidies, contributions, the payment of professional employees. Vasya forgot the “news” about herself. Marya reminded her of it when she was leaving.
“Don’t undertake too much work! Remember that your health is none too good. I’m afraid for you, my dear!”
She gave Vasya some advice. One thing was prohibited, while another was good for her. Vasya listened, and tried to remember everything. For the child’s sake. It should be a strong baby. It was so little, so helpless...
She reached the street, smiled as she walked along.
A baby! That would be nice. She would show the other women how to raise a child in the Communist way. There was no need for a kitchen, for family-life and all that nonsense. The thing to do was to organize a nursery, a self-supporting community house. Practice was better than preaching.
Vasya was so occupied with the idea of self-support that she even forgot her child. The thought of Vladimir, however, never entered her mind, as though he had had nothing to do with it.
Vasya was packing. A box containing Volodya’s picture and his letters fell over. On the top of the pile lay a narrow, tinted envelope, Nina Constantinovna’s letter.
Vasya looked at it, turned it over and over. She knew it by heart, yet she wanted to read it again. It would revive her heartache; but she could not resist it. Whenever she read it the old pain again gnawed at her heart; then it would freeze – that was her wrath against Vladimir. Why had he lied? Why had he deceived her?
She took up the letter, went closer to the window. It was glowing dark. She unfolded the familiar sheet. She read it carefully, every word.
But the gnawing pain was gone. And the serpent, that venomous tormentor, seemed to have lost its strength.
Instead, Vasya felt pity stirring in her heart. Sympathy for Nina Constantinovna’s tears. Sympathy with the grief, the sorrow, the distress of another woman’s heart. She remembered Nina going away from the bandstand, wiping away her tears with her fingers.
Why had she suffered? Why had she exposed herself to such anguish? She had expected a baby; and she had got rid of it. Why?
Going over to the table, Vasya pushed aside Grusha’s pieces of cloth, set down the ink and began to write a letter.
“I don’t know you, have no idea of what you really are. I’ve seen you only once. And I will tell you quite frankly that I didn’t like you. But when you cried, as you went away from the bandstand, my heart understood your pain and suffered with you.
“I have just reread your letter to Vladimir Ivanovitch. I’m returning it to you; my taking it was quite unwarranted, and I kept it from Vladimir. But it has served its purpose. So you needn’t be angry with me on this account.
"I’ve thought a great deal about your letter. Now that I have just reread it I know that I cherish no grudge against you, that I’m not angry with you any more. I see that you, too, have suffered much because of me. Let me, therefore, tell you what I’ve already told Vladimir: We’ve had enough of this game of hide and seek. You must become Vladimir Ivanovitch’s wife, his legal wife. The two of you are better suited to each other. I’m not the proper wife for him, for our tastes differ, and our lives run in different directions. I never know what he thinks, and he doesn’t understand me.
“When we separated, Vladimir and I, it was not because you had stolen him away from me; you could take possession of his heart only because he no longer loved me. I shall continue to live now just as I used to live before without Vladimir. You, however, actually cannot live without him. It is always so when two people love each other.
“Vladimir Ivanovitch and I lived in a free union, so that no divorce is required.
“I do not reproach you. If I had known sooner how you love each other, I would have done this long ago. Tell Vladimir Ivanovitch that I feel no bitterness toward him, but will always be his friend, as I always used to be. And should you ever need anything I shall always be ready to help you or to be of service to you. There was a time when my heart held little love for you. But now that I understand everything I feel only deep sympathy for you, for all your tears, for the suffering and heartache of a woman. I wish you great happiness, as I would a sister. Remember me to Vladimir, and tell him to take good care of his bride.
“In any case, I’m giving you my new address. If you want to write me, I will answer. For we aren’t enemies, Nina Constantinovna, even though, unintentionally, we caused each other much pain. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other.
“Good-bye. I wish you all the happiness in the world.
At the end of the letter she wrote down her exact address. Then she put both letters into an envelope, moistened the flap with her tongue, and pasted it together.
Then, suddenly, her soul – not her reason – told her: this is the end.
The end? But where was the pain?
There was no pain.
Where was her grief? Her gnawing, benumbing grief?
The grief, too, had gone.
Volodya “the American” was there – not Vladimir Ivanovitch. She thought of Vladimir and saw Nina. She thought of Nina, and Vladimir appeared beside her.
As though they had become one for Vasya – one, indivisible, inseparable.
One. The thought of it did not hurt her. Let them be one.
Her heart was calm, full of peace. Like a garden after a tempest.
Vasya stood beside the window, enjoying the sunset. The sun was sinking behind purple, gold-edged clouds, as in a storm. The crows were circling over the earth, cawing, seeking a shelter for the night.
The air smelled of dry leaves, mushrooms and autumn earth. Fragrant, refreshing, familiar. Not spicy and enervating, as in Vladimir’s country.
Vasya drew a deep breath, avidly drinking in the air.
Yes, life was beautiful.
She leaned out of the window. In the little courtyard Grusha was hastening to get the clean clothes off the line while it was still daylight.
“Grusha. Grusha. Come here, quick. I have some news. Good news....”
“I’m on my way.”
She came in, threw the laundry on the bed.
“What’s the news? Did you get a letter?”
“A letter? Yes, it’s a letter; but I didn’t get it – I wrote it. Guess to whom!”
“To none other than Vladimir Ivanovitch, I’m sure.”
“But you’re wrong! Not to him, but to the little lady, his wife, Nine Constantinovna ”
Grusha was astonished. “Why did you do that?”
“You see, Grusha, when I read that letter of Nina’s over again I felt so sorry for her. After all she suffered, too, on my account. And she lost a baby because of me. She endured everything, grieved, was miserable. And why? We’re not rivals, after all. We’re not enemies. If she had taken Vladimir from me in cold blood, without love, I would never have forgiven her, would always have been furious at her. But now that I really understand her.... For she loves Vladimir. She loves him very much, more than I do. And she’s right.
“Life without Vladimir means nothing to her. That’s why she writes: ‘I can’t live without you!’ Do I need Vladimir? I’ve thought it over, Grusha, many times; and now I realize that I won’t grieve for him. If Volodya ‘the American’ could come back, it would be different. I long for him, Grusha, for the old Volodya. But, you see, the American doesn’t exist any more! And he’ll never return! So why should I torment Nina? Why disturb the happiness of these two? What do I care about the ‘manager’? I don’t need him.”
“Yes,” agreed Grusha, “you don’t need the manager. That’s the worst of it, the way so many of our men have deserted us to become managers. But don’t be unhappy, Vassilissa. There are plenty of our boys left. Just look at those who don’t belong to the Party! You’ll find true Communists among them, real proletarian Communists.”
“Of course, we’re getting new recruits. But the others? They exchanged their proletarianism long ago for lamps and quilts. They don’t understand us. So, you see, Grusha, I thought: Why torment Nina? Why hold on to Vladimir? He was neither married nor free. What was the sense in that state of affairs? It would have to be stopped; and that without bitterness. They had suffered enough. I didn’t quite understand all this when I left Vladimir. I was still expecting something, hoping for something. I thought that if Vladimir left me for another woman I would die of grief. I was numbed with pain when I came here; I didn’t even notice the trip. But when I went to work in the Party Committee, when others came to me with their worries and troubles, it seemed to me that my sorrow was gone. Will you believe me? I can honestly say that I feel neither bitterness nor jealousy. Everything is calm and quiet.”
“Mother o f God, I thank thee!” Grusha quickly crossed herself, and glanced at the ikon in the corner. “I did not kneel and pray to our Holy Lady all these nights in vain, Vassilissa. ‘Help a woman’s heart,' I prayed. ‘Help Vassilissa.' ”
Vasya smiled. “Stop, Grusha! You’re incorrigible! Do you still believe in ikons? But what you said is true: I’m cured. How many months was I walking about like a somnambulist! I wasn’t conscious. I didn’t live. I forgot the Party. But now I’m well again. Everything delights me now, everything’s new to me. The old world still goes round. Vladimir may be gone, but the Party is there. That’s how I felt after I had typhus, when I began to recuperate.”
“I’m only afraid that you’ll have another attack, that your husband’ll write some more of those damned' letters of his.”
“No, Grusha, that won’t happen again!” Thought-fully Vasya shook her head. “My heart has changed altogether. I resent nothing, reproach him with nothing; my jealousy of Nina has disappeared. But my pity for them remains. All three of us were lost in a labyrinth. We were angry at one another. And we couldn’t find the way out before we had lost our bitterness. When I took Nina into my heart I stepped out of that maze of suffering. It was not because I forgave her; what did I have to forgive? But I sympathized with her as with a sister, for she had known a woman’s pain, and had suffered as much as I. Not through her own fault, but because life still hasn’t reached the ideal. I pitied her and I felt better.”
"And it couldn’t be otherwise if you don’t love him any more. Love always brings suffering. It gives you a little joy – but sorrow follows it like a shadow. And when you feel no more pain your love’s at an end, too.”
“That’s not true, Grusha; you mustn’t look at things that way,” Vasya shook her head. “I haven’t stopped loving Vladimir. He’s still in my heart. But my love has changed. It no longer makes me miserable; I’m not angry at him any more. I am grateful to him for the love that has been, for the happiness we felt together. Why should I be vexed with Vladimir? As long as he loved me we were happy. Now he has stopped loving me – who’s to blame for that? I thank him for what has been. I feel as if Vladimir had become my brother, and Nina my sister.”
“I can’t quite see your regarding Nina as a sister. You’re trying to fool yourself, Vassilissa. Don’t try to be too clever – don’t be a super-Communist. Of course it’s better that you’ve forgiven Vladimir about Nina. Forgiven and forgotten. Out of your heart, and out of your mind. But as for love – don’t! Keep your love, your heart for the workers instead. They’re having a hard time now. Many of them have lost faith in themselves. They don’t get much out of your Party doctrines. Give them something more, food and warmth for the heart. I’m not a member of the Party, but I see everything nevertheless. Just ask me, Vassilissa, and I’ll always tell you the truth.”
“I know you’re with us, Grusha; we all know that. But why do you still insist on believing in your ikons? Now, don’t pout, don’t be offended. I won’t say another word. I won’t tease you any more, and I won’t quarrel with you. I’m in such a festive mood today, Grusha. I feel so happy, so gay, so free! And do you know who cured me? Do you? Try to guess!”
“I can’t imagine!”
“You don’t mean it! Then let that Fedosseyev woman be forgiven for all her sins and meanness!”
“But I haven’t even told you the biggest news of all, Grusha. I saw the doctor. I’m expecting a baby.”
“A baby?” Grusha clapped her hands. “Really? Then how could you let your husband go? Will you let the baby be fatherless, or are you going to be fashionable, and have an abortion?”
“Why an abortion? Let the child grow. I don’t need a man. That’s all they can do – be fathers! Look at the Fedosseyev woman with her three children – they didn’t keep her husband from going to Dora.”
“That’s all very well; but how will you bring it up all by yourself?”
“All by myself? The organization will bring it up. We’ll fix up a nursery. And I’ll bring you over to work there. You like children, too. Then it’ll be our baby. We’ll have it in common.”
Again they laughed.
“But now, Grusha, I have to hurry with my packing. The train leaves early in the morning. I’m going to my work tomorrow. I’m going to arrange everything just as I want it. Stepan Alexeyevitch has given me his blessing. Back to work! Grusha, do you realize the joy of that?”
She seized Grusha’s hands, and the two danced about the room like children. They almost knocked over the dressmaker’s model.
They laughed uproariously. Even the people downstairs in the courtyard could hear them.
“We must live, Grusha! Live!”