Alexandra Kollontai's Red Love
“At last my tomboy’s come back! Where were you fighting? At Party Headquarters? What did they say there?”
Vladimir met Vasya on the stairs. He must have been waiting for her at the window.
He listened to Vasya’s report, walking up and down the room and smoking. His face was worried. “You say they’re accusing me of keeping up two households. And suppose I had five households. What business is it of theirs, the hypocrites? My accounts are in order, I’m not stealing any goods or accepting any bribes; what in the world do they want?”
And again Vasya didn’t bother about the significance of “two households.”
She remained firm concerning Savelyev. That would have to stop. Let him go to the office, but keep him out of the house. She also inquired about the workingmen: Was it really true that Vladimir was foul-mouthed and abusive?
“That’s fiction pure and simple. Nonsense. Defamation., Of course, it happens that I shout at them, or even curse them. But it’s all for the cause and never without a reason. They can’t be left to themselves. Especially the shippers – a lazy, dull-witted group.”
Vasya didn’t tell Vladimir that he was threatened with expulsion. He was sufficiently depressed without that. But now she determined to organize the household properly. Simpler food, no more unnecessary guests. Vladimir would have to get rid of the horse he had bought. Why did he need a horse when he had the car?
Vladimir flared up again. It was a well-broken saddle horse, would even take a side saddle! “It’s impossible to get such a thing nowadays. It was a special opportunity, and a great bargain. Today a horse represents capital.”
“Capital? Have you any intention of becoming a capitalist? Don’t joke that way, Vladimir! You may have to weep over it later.”
“Do you think they’ll throw me out of the Party? What’s become of the Party, that it’s expelling people for ‘moral’ reasons? Let them do it. I’ll work with the economic organization.”
Seeing that his temper was running away with him, Vasya did not contradict. She only insisted that everything would have to be changed. Everything would have to become simpler, quieter. And, most important of all, they would have to avoid all objectionable relationships. She promised to speak with Michailo Pavlovitch again. If it came to the worst she would go to see Toporkov in Moscow.
Sitting there on the window sill Vasya looked so pale and thin. Nothing but eyes. And even her eyes were not happy.
Vladimir looked at her-. Throwing his cigarette to the floor, he walked over to her, put his arms about her, and pressed her close, close.
“Vasya, you dear friend of mine. Don’t desert me, Vasya, not now. Help me, advise me. I know that I’m to blame. Not before them – before you!”
He laid his head on her knee, like a little boy.
“How are you to blame, Volodya?”
“Don’t you understand, Vasya? Don’t you feel it?”
“Because you’re harming yourself? because you're betraying your proletarianism? Don’t accuse yourself before me, but before yourself.”
“Oh, Vasya, Vasya.” Vladimir turned away, as though he were disappointed. Abruptly changing the subject, he asked: “Is dinner ready? I want to eat. I haven’t had a bite since morning.”
Vasya was returning from a meeting. She way working with the girls of the hemp-binding works, and was helping the woman in charge of the organization work to get the factory going. She was working with the crowd again, quite naturally, as if she were at home. Michailo Pavlovitch saw a good deal of her, and she had become friends with his “boys.” The group was not exactly homogeneous, but they stuck together, “fought” against the Chairman of the Provincial Committee, and objected to the policy of the “economists.” Their admiration was centered on a former workingman who had become the manager of the steel foundry. He was one of their “own people.” He hadn’t dissociated himself from the crowd or taken on “the manner of a military governor.”
Vladimir’s case had not yet come up for trial. Michailo Pavlovitch said that new material had come in, and that it wasn’t favorable. He advised Vasya to warn Vladimir. He really must be more cautious, must avoid Savelyev. Savelyev’s reputation wasn’t of the best. Let the “economists” protest as much as they wanted, the G. P. U. wouldn’t permit him to run about at large much longer.
Vasya’s mind was troubled. She was suffering for Vladimir. Particularly just now. He was working from morning to night. And as soon as he came home he would settle down with his accounts. The Central Administration had ordered him to reorganize the bookkeeping system. He had taken on a specialist, a bank employee, to help him; and the two of them would be bending over the books till three o’clock in the morning. Vladimir had grown thin, and did not sleep well. It was only natural, with his twofold cares. He held a responsible post, and had the intrigues and gossip to worry about besides. Vasya’s heart ached for him. It was overflowing with tenderness for him.
They received no more guests. Nor was anything heard of Savelyev. He must have gone away. It was better thus. Vladimir had stopped going to the theatre, no longer visited his friends. He spent all his evenings at home. Troubled, silent, gloomy.
Vasya didn’t know how to take his mind off his worries, how to make his work easier for her man, her friend.
She could forget him only in the hemp-binding works, while she worked for the Party. The factory girls led a wretched life. They earned very little. There had been no time to look over the rates, and the pay was in arrears. The administration was not able to manage. Silly fools! Vasya besieged them, stood up for the interests of the shop girls. She had set their union going, and had brought the matter as far as the accounting department.
She was kept very busy at the factory. She would forget everything else, and the day would be over before she realized it. One evening Vasya was walking home with the organizer, Lisa Sorokina. Lisa was a working-girl, young and sensible. Vasya liked her. As they walked they worked out a plan. Whom should they arouse to action, so that the accounting department would be given a push forward in the matter?
They reached Vasya’s house almost before she knew it. As she went in Vladimir came to meet her. He was quite different now. Gay, his eyes shining, sparkling with delight.
The moment Vasya came in he put his arms around her.
“Congratulate me, Vasyuk. There’s a letter from Moscow. I’m getting a new position. An advancement. I’m to be at the head of an entire district. We’ll have to stay here about two months longer, until I’ve finished up everything. And then we’ll see what our S. C. will do. What will the Chairman say?”
“Don’t be too happy about it. The action against you might come in between.”
“Nonsense. The Central Administration wouldn’t let them insult me any more. You don’t realize that I’ve become a most important personality.” Elated as a boy, he fondled Vasya and kissed her. “You tireless tomboy of mine, I’m so happy that I’ve brought a present for you, too.”
He took her into the bedroom. Some blue silk and white batiste lay on the bed.
“Here’s some blue silk for a dress. Dress yourself nicely, sweetheart. That grayish-blue will become you. And here’s some batiste, for underwear.”
“For underwear? What in the world are you thinking of, Volodyka?” Vasya laughed. “This material for underwear?”
“It’s just the right thing for that. Soft white batiste for ladies’ underwear. You ought to stop wearing that sackcloth stuff. It makes you look like a bag of flour.”
“No, I’d rather have some blouses made of it. But as for the silk, you might just as well have not bought it, though it’s pretty. And I suppose you paid cash for it? Why are you such a spendthrift?”
Vasya shook her head. Volodya’s presents gave her no joy. And they would accuse him of extravagance again. But she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
“Don’t you like it?” asked Vladimir.
“The material’s pretty, of course. But what can I do with it? Use your judgment. Is it for the theatre? Do you want me to go to the theatre with you as the ‘manager’s lady’ ?” Vasya laughed as she tried to picture herself in this blue dress. “But I thank you, anyway – thank you for your kindness and your love.”
Rising to her toes, she embraced Vladimir, and kissed him long, fervently.
“At least you haven’t forgotten how to kiss, Vasyuk! And I was beginning to think you had stopped loving me. You’ve exiled me from the bedroom. You never come to me, never make love to me.”
“But we haven’t time for such things, and you aren’t in the mood for them.”
“And you still love me?”
“Do you want me to remind you how we used to love each other?”
They laughed, the two of them, as if they had been separated and now had found each other again.
Vasya was hurrying to the factory. On the stairs it occurred to her that she had forgotten Bucharin’s “A B C of Communism.” It was in Volodya’s book-ease. Hurrying back to the study, she opened the glass door. A package fell on the floor, the paper came undone. Vasya stooped down, and felt as if her heart would stop beating. It was a piece of the silk Vladimir had given her, a piece of the same batiste. And a bundle of lace and inserts besides. Why? For whom?
Dimly she remembered: “He’s keeping up two households.” Impossible. Vasya was afraid to think of it, afraid to look the truth in the face. But her jealousy was aroused.
“He’s keeping up two households.” He was so variable. Now he would be distant, would hardly look at her, then, again, he would be inordinately affectionate, as if to make good a fault. She remembered that Volodya always smelled of perfume when he returned from the theatre. She recalled how he would always preen himself before the mirror when he went out in the evening. And she thought again of the long-forgotten nurse with the full lips – of that bed...
Vasya’s eyes grew dim, her hands seemed petrified. Her heart was heavy with unspeakable pain. Volodya, her beloved, her comrade, was betraying her, his friend, his Vasyuk. He had other women – behind her back – while she was there. It would have been different if they had not been together. She would ask him no questions then. But this way! He caressed Vasya, and she felt that they were one, felt it with all her heart, with all her love and tenderness.
What could it mean? Didn’t he love her any more? That was impossible! Vasya’s heart couldn’t believe in such anguish. She sought for a straw to which to cling. If he no longer loved her, how could he be so loving and solicitous? Would he have called her? Anyway, how could such a thing happen? How could Volodya stop loving her? They were so close to each other, so intimately bound up with each other. They were friends, comrades. What hadn’t they gone through together! And now, again, disaster was looming. Vasya didn’t believe in it, refused to believe in it. But the serpent of jealousy dripped its venom into her heart.
Why had he spent so little time at home? Why was he so melancholy, so gloomy? Why didn’t Vasya delight him as before? Why had he sought an excuse – her cough – to sleep alone?
The serpent’s fangs were sharp, so sharp that Vasya almost moaned with pain. She didn’t want to hear its hissing. Vladimir loved her, loved Vasya! He loved her! Otherwise would he caress her as he had yesterday? And this material might be intended for someone else. Volodya might have bought it for somebody. How did she know that the package belonged to him? There was no evidence. She had simply imagined it.
Vasya was ashamed of her suspicion, of having tried to check up on her husband like an old woman.
But the serpent of jealousy still was gnawing at her. Keep still, you evil snake! When Vladimir would come back she would ask him, would have a long talk with him, so that everything would be explained and she would know the truth.
Taking up the “A B C” she hastened to the hemp-binding works, for it had become very late.
Vasya was hurrying homeward. She was afraid she would be late for dinner. At the factory the serpent in her heart had remained still. But hardly had she reached the street when it stirred again.
“He’s keeping up two households.” Two pieces of silk, two pieces of batiste. How did Volodya know that this material was used for underwear? And who used it? Girls of easy virtue, and Nep-women with easily earned money. What had he called Vasya’s things? Sackcloth – flour-bags. But what difference could underwear make? Hadn’t he loved her in this underwear? And in the old days he wouldn’t have left her alone the day she came. A meeting, he had said. But why had he dressed so carefully before the mirror? Why had he smelled of perfume? Why did he no longer look at Vasya with tenderly mischievous eyes? She would ask him when she got home: This is how matters stand. Tell me the truth. For whom is the material? Why did you hide it in the book-case? If it had been bought for someone else he would have thrown it on the table. No evasions! No lies! That I’d never forgive!
Vasya ran up the steps, and rang the bell. She was in a hurry.
The automobile was standing before the door, so Vladimir must be at home. She would go to him at once, and demand an answer. She wouldn’t forgive deception. She wouldn’t permit him to play with her as husbands played with their unloved, lawfully-wedded wives.
Vasya became flushed with her anger. Why didn't someone open the door?
She heard the bolt being pushed back. At last!
"There are guests from Moscow,” Marya Semyonovna told her. “Six people. And they’re all supposed to get enough to eat. That’s not so easily done!”
“Guests? Who are they?”
She heard voices in the drawing room. Animated conversation. Vladimir was there too, playing the host. He introduced his wife, Vassilissa Dementyevna. The guests were members of the syndicate; they had brought a new program for the work.
Vassilissa would have liked to ask them for news from Moscow, and about the political litigation that everybody was interested in at the moment. But Marya Semyonovna was in the doorway, beckoning mysteriously, calling Vasya. She must need help. Vassya, the boy, had been sent for wine; Ivan Ivanovitch had gone to fetch entrees. And the worthy Marya Semyonovna was in despair. She had to cook and to set the table. Vasya would have to help her, for Vladimir wanted everything to be just so. The table should look well.
Both the women worked hard. It was a good thing that Ivan Ivanovitch returned, and also helped.
Vasya had no time to think of the blue silk. And the serpent in her heart gave no sign of life, seemed to be gone. Vasya wanted only to help her man so that he would make a good impression on the members of the syndicate.
The errand-boy, Vassya, came back, all out of breath, with the wine. Ivan Ivanovitch uncorked the bottles. The table looked splendid enough for Easter. There were appetizers, wines, flowers, Morosov napkins, silver cutlery.
The guests were asked to come in. Vladimir glanced anxiously at the table, and seemed content. But why didn’t he at least look gratefully at Vasya? She had tried so hard. She felt hurt, offended.
Vasya conversed with her guests. But she could not stop thinking of that blue silk. For whom was it intended? For whom?
She glanced at Volodya. She saw him with different eyes, as though he were a stranger. And if he were close to her, if he belonged to her, he would have pitied her. He would never have let that accursed serpent enter her heart.
Vasya was tormented throughout the evening. At night she had to put up the visitors. She sent the errand-boy for pillows, and arranged a dormitory in the study. There she couldn’t help looking at that damned book-case again and again. The blue material was lying there. For whom? For whom?
She was exhausted. She had served tea. The guests spoke only of their own affairs, of various kinds of goods, of different methods of packing, of specifications and calculations.
They were business men. They had been merchants. Among them were two Communists who were seeking their salvation in trade. Real “Red„ merchants”.
Vladimir grew animated. He was proud of his business, of being ahead of all the others. His business was barely a month old, but it was developing. The merchants’ respect for him was evident. Everybody listened to him. No one paid any attention to the other members of the administration.
Vasya watched them. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been happy for Vladimir. But today he seemed a stranger. Business, nothing but business, not a thought of her. Nor did he see how weary her spirit was after this day. And if he had deceived her, lied to her, might he not be a little crooked in business P Might not the Party Committee be justified in calling him to account?
And what didn’t these syndicate people discuss! If only she could be alone with Vladimir. If only she could find out something about the blue material.
Vasya undressed for the night, and waited for Vladimir. He was to sleep with her that night, for the syndicate people had taken possession of all the other rooms. She listened for his steps. The guests had already said good-night. Now he was only giving Ivan Ivanovitch instructions for the morning.
He was coming. Vasya’s heart pounded, her knees trembled. She sat down on the bed. She would ask him as soon as he came in.
But Vladimir gave her no chance to ask her question; he was too full of news himself. He wanted her advice: how should they reorganize the machine so as to strengthen the Communists, so that the members of the Party would prevail over the members of the syndicate, over the burshui?
“Advise me, Vasya. Think it over carefully. Tomorrow we’ll go over the new project together. But first you read over the program by yourself, and think about it. These ‘bay-windows’ would like to get the power; they’re secretly plotting against us proletarians. Let them plot! We weren’t born yesterday, either. It’s our job to construct the machine so that nothing can be done without the Party, without the Communists.”
“Then why don’t you follow the Party regulations? Don’t you often say that expulsion from the Party isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, that you can live without the Party?”
“Oh, one can say so many things without meaning them,” laughed Vladimir. “You understand that But how can one live without the Party? Will we ever leave it?”
Vladimir spoke thoughtfully, pulling off his shoes all the while. “If only I had this stupid case off my chest. And how we’ll live, Vasya – wonderfully. You’ll see what a model Communist I’ll be as soon as I’m transferred to another district. And I won't have any more fights with the Chairman.
they’ll canonize me.”
Volodya was happy, not sulky as he had been so often in the last few days. His eyes were again laughing mischievously.
“Let’s go to sleep.”
Vladimir wanted to put out the light, but Vasya held his hand.
“No, wait.... I have to... I want to ask you something...”
She raised herself on her elbow, the better to see his face. Her heart pounded, her voice sounded curiously unfamiliar. Vladimir started.
“Go ahead. What is it?”
He was looking not at Vasya, but at the wall.
“I wanted to ask you. Why do you have material lying in your book-case? Silk – and batiste?”
“Silk? Do you mean the samples?”
“No, not samples. A piece, a big piece, exactly the same as the one you gave me.... For whom?...”
She stared into Vladimir’s face.
“You want to know for whom it is? Can’t you guess, really?”
“Ivan Ivanovitch asked me to get the same stuff for his fiancee. He wants to have everything I have, you know. He copies me in everything.”
He explained it so simply, so calmly, that the blood rushed to Vasya’s face. She was ashamed of herself.
“Ivan Ivanovitch? His fiancee? And I thought...”
“What did you think?” laughed Vladimir, turning to face her.
“You dear sweet darling of mine! My Volodyka.”
Vasya kissed him. How could she have thought of such a thing? How could she have doubted him? Suspected her friend? “Why, what did you think? Oh, you little detective! 'Such a cross-examiner.”
Volodya put his arms about Vasya. But his eyes seemed worried.
“And now to bed, no more kissing. We’ll have a hard time getting through with our work tomorrow anyway, on account of the guests. We’ll have to get up early.”
He put out the light.
Vasya felt a load off her heart. But the moment he was asleep the serpent stirred again. Why did he call me a little detective? And a cross-examiner? There must be something to be found out!
Vladimir slept soundly. But Vasya lay there curled up like a porcupine, wide awake, staring into the dark.
To believe or not to believe? To believe or not to believe?
The syndicate people had gone. Now Vladimir’s work was doubled. The work of reorganization caused him endless worries. But there had been a joyful compensation. Michailo Pavlovitch had called Vasya to his room, and told her of some secret instructions from the Central Administration. As the manager could not be accused of any real offense, and as the whole thing practically amounted only to subordination and improper behavior, the matter was to be hushed up as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
Vasya drew a breath of relief, almost fell back into her old habit of saying “Thank God.” She barely succeeded in controlling herself.
Michailo Pavlovitch was glad, too. On Vasya’s account. He liked her, and felt sorry for her.
Vasya, however, was unsuccessful. The accounting department had decided in favor of the management. The girls of the hemp-binding shop grew restless. A strike seemed imminent. Working under the cloak of Bolsheviki unaffiliated with the Party, the Mensheviki were doing their best to fan the flames.
Although she coughed and felt feverish, she was at the works every day. She fought against the management, insisted, demanded concessions. Then, again, she sought to calm the shop girls. And her work absorbed her so completely that she forgot the blue silk entirely. She had no time for it. Only once did the serpent in her heart give a sign of life; it had gained a firm foothold there and wasn’t easy to drive out.
This time it was the dog, the white poodle.
Vassya, the boy, had brought it home. It wore a silk bow between its ears.
“Whose dog is that? Why did you bring it here? Where does it come from?”
Vassya replied that Vladimir Ivanovitch had given him orders to keep the dog in the house for the time being. It belonged to Savelyev, who had gone out of town, leaving the poodle alone and neglected in the empty house.
Surprised, Vasya wondered about Vladimir's sudden liking for dogs. Did he want to do Savelyev a favor? And her resentment against Savelyev was aroused again. Why did Vladimir continue being friends with him, with this speculator, this thief?
When Vladimir came, the poodle rushed to meet him as though it had found a long-lost master. Petting it, Vladimir began to talk to it.
“Where does the dog come from, Volodya? Savelyev’s?”
“Why, no! It belongs to Ivan Ivanovitch’s fiancee. She’s gone out of town and Ivan Ivanovitch asked me to keep it here for a while.”
“But Vassya said it belongs to Savelyev.”
“Nonsense! It’s true that the dog was in Savelyev's house for the past few days. Vassya took it from there. That’s why he thinks it belongs to Savelyev.”
Vasya listened as if she understood everything clearly.
But the serpent stirred, gripped her heart in its coils. Should she believe him?
The moment Ivan Ivanovitch came Vasya flew at him. Whose poodle was it?
With great detail, Ivan Ivanovitch told her of his fiancee, who had asked him to care for her poodle. But how could he do it? He never was at home So he sent it to Savelyev. There, however, there were only the servants, who would go away and lock the poodle in the house.
It might have been true.
But Vasya didn’t like the poodle.
Vladimir Ivanovitch had gone away for a few days. Something about the syndicate. Vasya was alone. She had thought she would be lonely and sad. But it was different. Though she was alone she seemed to feel happier, more free. She was relieved of the burden which, in Vladimir’s presence, weighted her down like a stone. And she no longer felt the depressing disregard of Volodya, who ignored her as if she didn’t exist at all. She knew he was busy, that his head was full of other things; but her heart, her silly woman’s heart was sad, longed for affection.
She was better off without Vladimir. When she was alone there was nothing to do about it. She expected nothing, listened for nothing, didn’t feel hurt.
She invited her friends to her house: Lisa Sorokina, the factory boys, Michailo Pavlovitch. She gave a supper party. She was happy when she entertained her friends.
After supper they discussed Party affairs, went into the garden, sang together. It was beautiful. Everyone was gay, but Vasya most of all. Quite different, this, from the conversations with the syndicate people, or with Savelyev, in the drawing room. She hardly noticed how quickly the days of Vladimir’s absence passed.
He came home on an early morning train, and found Vasya at the tea table.
Jumping to her feet, Vasya hurried to meet him. He didn’t kiss her, but he pressed her hand to his lips for a long time. When he raised his head she saw tears in his eyes. Her heart grew heavy.
“What’s the matter, Volodya? Has something happened again?”
“No, Vasya, nothing’s happened. It’s only....life is so hard for me, Vasya. I’m so tired of it all.”
He sat down at the table, leaned his head on his hand, and let his tears flow freely.
“But what’s the trouble, Volodya? What is it? Please tell me, dear, you’ll feel better”
“Will I, Vasya?” he asked wretchedly. “I’ve been turning it over and over in my mind; I’ve been wondering... I’ve gone through so much, Vasya. No, things can’t become better. There’s no way out.”
And again Vasya’s heart was convulsed in an agony of fear.
“Don’t torment me, Volodya! Tell me the truth can’t go on this way any longer. I’m tired – I can't rest...”
She could not go on, for she began to cough.
“There! You’re coughing again! How can I talk to you/” Was it a reproach or was it sorrow that she heard in Volodya’s voice?
And Vasya coughed. His annoyance plainly showing in his face, Vladimir lighted a cigarette.
“Why don’t you drink some tea? That might stop it,” he advised her.
“No, I’ll take some of my medicine.”
Her fit of coughing over, Vasya gave Vladimir some tea, and he told her again, in his ordinary tone, how difficult it was to keep things going. The shipping clerks had just raised a row. They demanded higher pay for overtime, although their usual wages had been reduced. The syndicate was losing money on their account, but they were threatening to strike if their pay was not raised. Possibly it was the work of agitators. After all, one could not see everything.
“Ivan Ivanovitch came with his report the moment I stepped out of the train, and you expect me to be happy! I go away for a couple of days, and I come back to find a fight on my hands. What in the world do the other members of the administration do? They shouldn’t have let the matter go so far. Now there’ll be trouble. And the Chairman has found something new, too.”
“So that’s why you said life was so hard, and that there’s no way out? On account of the shipping clerks?”
“Why, of course! What did you think?”
Puffing at his cigarette, Vladimir slowly stirred his tea, and spoke of the dispute again. How could it be smoothed over without a public scandal? But Vasya listened only half-heartedly. Should she believe him? Had he really wept only on account of the shipping clerks? It wasn’t like him. He had something else on his mind. The blue silk... Vladimir might really be tired. The S. C. had tormented him so that now every little thing could make him lose control of himself. She was trying to convince herself, to believe that Vladimir’s worries were of a purely business nature. It was the members of the administration who were to blame for this business of the shipping clerks.