Part II
All the time I'd lived in Paris one memory had lived on inside me; it breathed, changed shape, grew, intensified, subsided, melted, and burst into life again. It gave me no rest. Often it made me happy; it let me know that there can be genuine and kind relations between people. It showed me the joy of intimacy with someone who until then had been a stranger but who touched your heart for eternity and was reflected in that heart, where he remained. This memory was very brief. It was a voice that once said to me gravely and kindly: "How do you do, Sasha!" It was a look that once fell on me and had become stuck there. There were nights in my miserable existence when I lived for this memory, lighting upon and dwelling on it, sometimes gaily, sometimes tearfully.

It seemed to me that ever since my childhood I'd been a little in love with Ariadna, and now I could be in love with her husband. It seemed to me that I was unconsciously looking to compete with her and imitate her, or else that all this was just my curiosity about her life, about their fate, curiosity about his unrealized poetry, which certainly ought to have had a continuation. Gradually and imperceptibly the image of Samoilov became linked inside me with everything unattainable and wonderful in life, things I could only guess at, the world as it might have been but wasn't for me, people as they might have been but as I would never know them, my secret conjectures that apart from everyday reality there was something else an image, a melody. As if in the darkest, most brutish years of my existence the beauty and poetry of the world winked at me as they raced past and instantly vanished. No matter that Samoilov himself was ugly and not very kind, and had no talent for composing poems (we hadn't heard anything here of his having made a name for himself, had we?). Through him I had caught a glimpse of something, the enchantment of another world flashed before me at a time when there seemed no possibility of any kind of enchantment in the world. There was also the warmth of the man who had leaned toward me for a moment when all around me was cold and miserable and people were frightened and mistrustful. His "How do you do, Sasha!" and his advice to "live like a bird, perhaps the wind," not to be afraid of anything, to wrap ourselves up in the two-thousand-year-old cloak, our cloak, albeit ripped in two, remained with me throughout my Paris life. I won't hide the fact that the actual memory of his face and voice faded over the years and lost its childish power, but everything that that face, that voice, had once awakened was alive. It lived on and sometimes blossomed inside me.

This memory possessed no solidity or continuity. In my small, awkward soul it was sometimes absent for weeks and then suddenly stung me for no apparent reason, or began weakly, looming dreamily in my thoughts, and then it was gone. On especially lonely nights, when my father slept soundly nearby with his eyes wide open, talking to himself (that was the only way he slept these days) and on the other side of the wall Varvara's guests --- they were all gray now, bald, toothless, and wheezy --- drank and sang (vodka, a guitar) with the same women friends (some long since grandmothers) at a Christmas party, or later, in the spring, it would descend upon me, uncoil, cast a spell over me, and leave me in blissful thrall, on the verge of tears.

--- From "The Tattered Cloak"
Nina Berberova
Translated by Marian Schwartz
© 2001, New Directions

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