Alexandra Kollontai's Red Love
Vladimir had come home earlier than usual. He was smiling with delight, for he had good news: the long-expected summons of the Central Administration, his appointment to the new post, had reached him. He would have to go to Moscow at once.
“To Moscow? All right, go ahead. I’m going away too, but not to Moscow. I’m going home, to my province.”
On the surface Vasya was calm as she spoke. The narrow, tinted envelope was in her pocket – the letter from Nina.
Vladimir didn’t notice the weariness in Vasya’s face. He didn’t see the angry light that flashed in her brown eyes. Nor did he wonder why Vasya was putting her things in order, why she was packing.
“You want to visit your friends? All right. Will we meet in Moscow, or will you go directly to the new district?”
Vasya’s heart had had one last hope: he would object, wouldn’t let her go. Now that, too, was over.
“I’m not going to the new place with you. I’ve been called back to work. And I’m going to stay there.
Not for a little while, but forever. I’ve had enough of my rest in this prison. I’m tired of playing the manager’s lady. You can take a wife who is able to appreciate this sort o f life.”
Something seemed to have given way in Vasya. A torrent of words poured from her mouth. She spoke so quickly she had to interrupt herself. She wouldn’t let herself be deceived any more. She was glad their love had come to an end. It had been an ordeal for her, to be without work among these syndicate people, these burshuis! She had stood it only for Vladimir’s sake; and she was hurt because he no longer needed her. He was using her only as a housekeeper, and as a cloak: “Why, my wife is a Communist.” But it was the other woman who would give him pleasure and love “in the mysterious little house”. A shrewd plan! There was only one thing Vladimir and Nina had forgotten: whether she, Vasya, would agree to lead this disgusting life!
Her eyes were green, spiteful. She had to pause for lack of breath.
Vladimir shook his head in amazement. “Is that you, Vasya? I don’t recognize you! If I ever kept anything from you it was only for your sake.”
“Thanks! I don’t need your pity. I’m strong. Do you think that your love fills my life completely? I’m sick of your love. It’s only a thorn in my flesh. I want only to get away from you as quickly as possible, to tear myself away. I’m not at all interested in what you do. Love, kiss whomever you please. Lie, deceive! Forget who you are! Betray Communism – it doesn’t make any difference!”
“Vasya! Vasya! What of our friendship? What of your promise to understand everything?”
“Our friendship? Where is it? Where’s that friendship? I don’t believe you any more, Vladimir. You’ve killed my faith in you. If you had come to me and said: ‘Vasya, something terrible, something dreadful has happened; I love another’ – do you think I would have held you back, or reproached you? Do you think I would have stood in the way of your happiness? You see, Vladimir, you forget that I’m not merely your wife, but your friend and comrade too. And that’s what hurt me – that’s what I’ll never forgive.”
The tears flowed over her thin cheeks. Wiping them away with her sleeve, she turned her back on Vladimir.
“I believed in you as in a comrade. But you crushed my faith, pitilessly. And how can we live together when our faith in each other is gone? Now I see clearly that our life together, our happiness is over.”
Vasya’s heart was heavy; her thin shoulders shook. She sat down on the bed, crushing the silk quilt in her hands. Sitting down beside her, Vladimir put his arm round her.
“Did you say that we’ve become strangers to each other, that you don’t love me any more? No, Vasya. If you didn’t love me, you wouldn’t suffer so. And I? Have I stopped loving you? Please try to understand! Yes, I love Nina; but in a different way. My love for you is stronger, deeper. I can’t see any course without you, Vasya. Whatever I do, I always wonder: What would Vasya say? What would she advise? You’ve been my guiding star, and I need you.”
“You’re always talking about yourself,” Vasya complained. “You forget me. I can’t live that way. I’m not worrying so much about your getting involved in this affair. What hurts me is that we’re not comrades any more.”
“Do you think I don’t see that? But why? I don’t know. When we’re parted, we long for each other – when we’re together we feel cramped. You said it used to be different. But were we ever together before? We never had any family life. We were always working, saw each other only for a moment. Shall we live that way again, Vasya? Just for the moment! Would you like that? Each to live for himself; and when we want each other, we’ll meet. Yes? Will you? Then Vasya will be my dear tomboy again, the only one in the world. And there will be no more lies. We mustn’t break off everything forever, in the heat of the moment. That’s what hurts. Have pity on me!”
Vladimir buried his head in her lap, as he had always done, and hid his face in her burning hands.
The room was quiet.
A wave of the longing they thought they had forgotten covered both of them with its hot flood. The little ember of passion, buried under the ashes of suspicion and offended feelings, glowed more brightly again.
“Vasya – darling!”
Vladimir’s arms embraced Vasya and pulled her on his knee. He covered her lips with kisses, and her body with passionate caresses.
Unresisting, Vasya yielded to the sweet languor she had almost forgotten.
Let it be so! Now Vladimir loved her as before. Altogether. He belonged to her alone, forget Nina. He was unfaithful to Nina – not only with his body but with his heart and his soul.
Vasya felt a malicious joy out of keeping with her usual character. It grieved her, but she was glad at the same time. Let him be unfaithful.
The days that followed were curiously sultry ember of passion, glowing under the ashes of anger and estrangement, flared up like a charcoal pile fanned into flames by the autumn wind.
Vladimir had become gentle, Vasya was loving and yielding. They seemed to have fallen in love all over again. They could not live without each other. At night they lay clasped in each other's arms, as though afraid that they might lose each other. Vladimir kissed Vasya’s brown eyes, Vasya pressed Vladimir’s head to her heart. They had never loved, never possessed each other like this, with bittersweet longing and joy. Had they found love anew, or were they bidding it farewell? Farewell to their lost, irretrievable happiness?
The while she smiled and joked Vasya was afraid of bursting into tears at any moment. Vladimir caressed her, and looked into her brown eyes; but she read infinite sadness in his gaze. Not the mischievous sparkle of joy. His eyes did not mirror Vasya’s love. They seemed silently to be saying good-bye to her.
To keep from seeing Volodya’s eyes and their tears, to smother that infinite sadness, Vasya put her slender arms around Volodya’s neck. She sought his lips; he pressed her to his heart. She yielded to his passionate caresses. He sought her body, insatiably, until both fell asleep, exhausted.
Those were queer days. Hot, sultry, gloomy. They held no happiness, no carefree joy born of love.
They discussed everything. “In the meanwhile,” Vasya would go home to her work. When Vladimir would be settled in his new place they would arrange, by letter, when they would meet. Where? They said nothing. Not a word was spoken of the separation. Everything seemed so simple now, so clear and comprehensible, as if there were unadulterated truthfulness between them. But there was one thing Vasya never mentioned; that she had taken and hidden Nina’s letter, that she was keeping it because it might some day be useful to her. She insisted herself that he should telegraph to Moscow that he was coming alone. Why did she want this? It hurt her, but somehow it seemed necessary. At first Vladimir refused, and regarded Vasya suspiciously, as if he were afraid of something. But finally he telegraphed nonetheless – and became even more loving and ardent.
It had to be so. They were drinking the last drops of happiness that remained in the cup of life; and they contained the heady wine of passion, the bitter sweetness of parting.
Vasya was gay, animated, lively. Volodya had not seen her so for a long time.
“I didn’t like my skin, so I shed it. What sort of ‘manager’s lady’ am I? You need another sort of wife. Beside, I’m not the least bit suited for the Nep!” Laughing, she teased Volodya.
“I don’t know what you are! I only know that you’ve become Vasya, the tomboy, again. And I won’t give up my tomboy, not even if five Party Committees demand you. For a while, yes; but for good – never!”
Vasya laughed. That was how it had to be. They would meet occasionally, as free comrades. But not as man and wife. That would be better.
Vladimir agreed that it would be better so. But he couldn’t live without Vasya’s clever little curly head.
“There are so few friends in the world, Vasya. Especially nowadays. They’re all gone; everyone thinks only of himself. But we’re tried friends and true, aren’t we, Vasya?”
They talked together as if the wall between them no longer existed; it had been broken down. The serpent in Vasya’s heart lay dormant; she thought her jealousy had disappeared. But suddenly, unexpectedly, she felt the sharp fangs again. Vladimir could not free himself of the past. He would talk of Nina; it showed how frequently he thought of her. She was so well educated, he said. She could speak perfect French with Frenchmen, German with Germans. She had learned that in school.
“If she’s so well educated, why can’t she find work? Or does she prefer to live at the expense of others? I suppose her laziness is in her blood. Besides, it’s much more comfortable to be your mistress.”
Vasya knew she shouldn’t say such things; but she could not restrain herself. The serpent was hurting her; and that was why she wanted to strike Volodya. Let him suffer, too.
Volodya frowned, looked at Vasya reproachfully.
“Why do you say that, Vasya? It’s ugly of you. My tomboy Vasya wouldn’t say that. It was another Vassilissa Dementyevna.”
This stung; Vasya was ashamed of herself. But she could not stop. She tried over and over again to wound Volodya, until he grew furious, and she came to her senses.
“Don’t be angry, dear. Forgive me! I love you. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t torment you so....”
Ecstatic kisses, two bodies seeking each other deliriously – to drown thought and suffering; to forget – to hide the inevitable truth.
Vasya bade the Party Committee farewell, packed the things in the house. She was concerned about everything, with the scrubbing rags, the hemp mats, and the straw. She consulted with Marya Semyonovna, held important conferences with her; how to pack everything so that nothing would be damaged or broken, so that everything would arrive safely in the manager’s new home.
“Why do you bother so much about it?” grumbled Marya Semyonovna. “If you’re going back home, why do you work so hard? Mark my word: the moment you’re gone that little lady’ll be there to take your place. And you’re working and worrying for her!”
Why not? Let it be so. She was not helping him as his wife; a wife would never have done it, would have condemned Vladimir: why had he become a burshui? But now this had nothing to do with her. He was living for himself, and she for herself. Each was going his own way. But they were comrades. Why shouldn’t she help him? Not because he was her husband, not because he demanded, expected, or wished it. No; but as a comrade, as a friend. Nor was she angry with him. If he wanted to take along all that trash, and to burden the national freight lines with his cases of dishes and his trunks of silks, it was his own affair! This was the parting of the ways for them. She could not go through life hand in hand with him; but why shouldn’t she help him pack?
Volodya could not believe his own eyes. Since when had she become such a housewife? He sang her praises to Ivan Ivanovitch and the members of the administration. But again and again he asked Vasya who would put his new house in order if she didn’t come along.
“Who? Why, what’s the matter with Nina Constantinovna? Or doesn’t she want to soil her little white hands? She’s a fine lady – everything has to be prepared for her, and handed her on a silver platter. By others, at the expense of others.”
She had hurt Volodya, and she was sorry. Why? He looked at her reproachfully, as if to ask: Why, Vasya?
“My darling, my sweetheart – I’m nasty, I know it! But it’s only because I love you. Don’t be angry, dear. I was only joking.”
She hid her face on Volodya’s breast, endeavored to swallow the tears that were choking her. For she loved him, come what might! She loved him, suffered, was afraid of losing him. It would be better to die!
“My poor darling. My Vasyuk. I know you – that’s why I love you, why I can’t tear my heart away from you. There’s not another such Vasya in all the world. I’ll never have another friend like you!”
And again that bitter, oppressive delirium dulled their senses – again they sought to drown their suffering in love.
“Will you keep a little corner of your heart free for the rebellious ‘Anarchist’?”
“When you’re happy, will you think of your tomboy, Vasya?”
It was a queer time. Passionate, gloomy....