|Those Who Wrestle With Spirits
Author: lili brik PM
A romance of confused youth, narodniks, God and politics in pre-revolutionary Russia.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 7 - Words: 19,241 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 04-09-10 - Published: 11-23-09 - id: 2744125
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
There are some who can see, and more powerfully than the actual perpetrators, feel and understand human evil, while retaining a great and simple purity. Andrei was not such a man, and though his white, work-scarred hands were clean, his heart was stained with the guilt of having even glanced upon the filthiness of the world. He was a diligent novice, but distant in a manner which could indicate either much piety, or much anguish over his decision to renounce the world--absolute necessity drove him, as much as any man or woman in the ancient days, who turned to Heaven in utter poverty and desperation--it was a soldier's furlough, or an utter desertion--the battle distanced by thick walls and dark robes. His days circumscribed, his body exhausted, his mind numbed, rather than calmed by the rituals of devotion--
It was not a sin in itself, having known the world and renounced it--indeed, it was a greater blessing, to have overcome temptation rather to have never known it, Father Lavr had told him many a time, without a trace of condemnation or, for that matter, any particular reason for saying so. "Christ asked us not to do all that He could--indeed, was that not the whole point of his sacrifice? There is none without blemish, save He--and if there is more He has forgiven, then so much the greater His glory." Such statements, offered briefly and without context, the elder's face devoid of expression--Andrei could not be sure that they were spoken at all, much less to him....the ramblings of a man, who despite his apparent physical and spiritual strength, could have the same plague-eaten wounds in his soul.
"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." Andrei's prayer cord was frayed, and even so, he obeyed God, Church and Elders without betraying anything more than that characteristic reserve, which had kept him from truly joining with the world, even in the same way it now prevented his full integration into the life and soul of the Church. It was pride, as much as anything, wasn't it, to find himself so especially full of doubt and emptied of virtue? Another sin, another proud mortification--
He was merciful--perhaps too much so. A consequence of his education--who did he truly love more, man or God--or women? It was not purely a sexual attraction, but a deep sympathy, a liking for them, pity for their weakness and admiration for their strength--though he too often found such emotions leading to such a raw want that he could not even confess it as lust.
And it was a woman who had led him to that final break with the world--a forced choice to flee, to escape to this blessed captivity. Perhaps it was hers, his mother's wry voice, her thin, once-lovely face he had heard and seen in the Jewess who had come seeking the counsel of a wise man. Perhaps that one admission by a revolutionary atheist--that a man of God, at least, if not God Himself, could possess a greater wisdom than all the accumulated knowledge of the world--was all that he had wished to hear from her lips before his departure from America. It was an admission that she would have made before--if only--if only--how could she have blamed God for all that had happened to her--Andrei could never comprehend, and did not know whether it was something that was his to forgive.
It was a secret, unknown even to Father Lavr, that he had not really known Russia as a child, that his mother had taken Andrei and his brother Pavl from their father's house when the older of the two boys was only five years of age, the younger not quite weaned from his peasant wet nurse. Though years later he could form a better opinion as to the necessity and reasons for their departure, Andrei had at the time only the ability to form the memories of everything notable, not to formulate them into an answer for the questions which nagged at him through the excitement of the journey to their new home in, of all seemingly improbable places, the American West.
It had been Christmas--the day after, when everything usually felt somewhat stale and worn-out, anyway--the smell of dried-up miseltoe and fir needles decaying pervading the wood-paneled hallways, the rank stench produced by cooking enough ham to the feed both the extended clan of Pavlovs and the scores of peasants they employed. Though dutifully generous when social convention required of it of her, Alexandra Pavlova was a sharply efficient mistress of the household, and Andrei knew that she would not be in an agreeable mood this morning, surrounded by the detritus of the holiday.
Andrei sympathized with the men and women who were about to receive his mother's attentions, as he ran an absent-minded hand over his dark hair, unable to remember whether or not he had brushed it. He hadn't, but it felt as if it might be presentable enough, and he had no wish to return to his room. Anyway, if he were lucky enough, he would manage to avoid both of his parents on the way out of the house. As the boy stepped quickly, half-running through the hallway which connected his bedroom with the stairs, he paused briefly, startled by the sound issuing from Pavl's room, until, a half-moment later, he smiled, recognizing it as his toddler brother's snoring.
Continuing on, now with foot lifted before the first step of the staircase, Andrei heard another noise--almost a joyful sound, like the tinkling of bells that had marked the festivities of the previous day--the momentary bounce of something fragile against the frigidly unyielding tile which covered the downstairs floor, ending in a devastatingly permanent crash. And above that, the high tone of his mother's voice, which even in cold of a wintry Russian morning was markedly devoid of warmth--the boy could not make out her words, but he slunk back, his belly feeling as if the ice which lined the outside walks had somehow got inside and coated his vital organs instead. For a fleeting moment, he thought, somewhat (though not entirely) absurdly, that she had caught Gerasim with the two fishing poles, but the two were to meet well behind the stable, where Alexandra Pavlova would never venture without explicit cause, which Andrei could not imagine her having. The moment of apprehension passed quickly, though soon replaced by another, more searing, as he heard his father's deep, gravelly voice respond.
Even a boy of five can appreciate the nuances of respect, of esteem, between adults, particularly one's parents--the effective autocrats of childhood, the authorative representatives of God, governor and tsar--and Andrei knew that his father and mother interacted in a way not much different between his mother's relationship to the servants. Any matter resembling sentiment was a tastefully managed expression of duty, and duty itself was inlaid with grudges Andrei could not fathom, but was terribly aware of. It was no great shock to realize that his parents did not love each other, however much they avoided explicit displays of animosity such as was now occuring downstairs, for he had never seen a married couple who did in fact embody mutual affection, much less esteem or simple respect.
There was a louder crash now, and a great rustle of cloth, possibly a woman's skirts or drapery, it was hard to tell which. Andrei could dimly hear another female voice, lower than his mother's, and calmer, though broken by nervous pauses. It was his aunt, he guessed, his mother's spinster sister Elena who had been visiting with his grandparents for the holidays. He hesitated, wanting very much both to run downstairs, and away, back to his room, so that he could feign sleep under the covers until they stopped, until this loud, strange mysterious moment downstairs passed and all animosity was safely, quietly, stored away.
There was a momentary worry for his aunt, who had ever embodied something mysteriously nameless, yet necessarily familiar to Andrei--some part of him which was not even considered, much less seen, by his parents always seemed apparent to her, and she loved the child greatly on her frequent visits to the Pavlov estate. Elena Nikolaevna was without artifice, and curiously both demure and unrestrained--motivated only by the purity of truth and beauty, which she saw everywhere, particularly in the large, strangely solemn eyes of her elder nephew.
Andrei, afraid at the increased volume of the argument, decided to step backwards after all, and, turning, stumbled directly into Gerasim, whose padded jacket provided a good buffer for the collision. The very blond peasant boy, himself about ten but only a handsbreadth taller than Andrei, put out a hand for additional support, his face darkly somber, even in the dimly lit hall. "How did you get up here?" Characteristically, Andrei was more impressed than startled.
"The dumbwaiter, actually.." Gerasim could not help a small smirk, impressed with himself, but continued quickly, his voice now serious. "We could go down, out together--but I don't think that would be such a good idea."
"There's not much chance of being found out for going out to the ice today--she'd never even notice."
"You haven't heard what they're talking about downstairs--and you haven't seen the coach waiting outside. You and Pavlov are the only things she hasn't packed--"
It did not take much longer, after Gerasim had informed him of this, that the boy's servant father Yakov, a short, muscular man of forty, came up the stairs and wordlessly removed Andrei and Pavlov from their father's house forever.