Catherine had declared the hallway of her apartment 'Nobody's Land' -- like most of the public spaces in Russia. Recalling Paris, and how there had always been fresh flowers adorning a table at the elegant entryway of the building on the Rue de Furstemberg, on her first week in St. Petersburg she had bought a bouquet of champagne roses, that she thought would suit the damask in tones of gold and bronze on the walls. Coming back from lunch, she artfully arranged them -- one among the classical refinements she had learned from Celeste -- on the table standing alone under a dimly lit lamp on the corner. The table was stained and unstable, if still classy and solid, and the lampshade was dusty and charmingly torn -- but her flowers had instantly enlivened the ambient, poising as an antidote to the decaying elegance. When leaving for tea, later in the afternoon, she found they had been stolen already, together with the little crystal vase acquired at the Udelnaya flea market. In the evening, she placed back the dried flowers and the plastic vase she had trashed earlier, wondering if they could have been dear to any of her neighbors.
Just then did she really notice how worn the carpet at the stairs landing was, to later find it had been placed there to hide a horrendously executed repair that had damaged the wooden floor, permanently. Nobody seemed to care about the peeling wallpaper, the stained mirror, the molded ceiling where rain had once leaked, the crannied marble of the doorposts -- all was considered historical, it seemed. Termites had been tenants in that building longer than any other people, she hinted, shrugging to those problems under the privilege of being a foreigner.
Standing in the hallway, Catherine would fantasize that Raskolnikov was just waiting to jump on her from behind one of the five other doors -- not to kill her, though, but to beg to appear in one of her novels. Because she was actually aware that the neighbors were spying on her through their peepholes -- she could see and sometimes even hear them being lifted, and the change of light in the holes as eyes were being pressed to them. Not so much scary, she didn't really care about that intrusion, and always thought that, through their provincial curiosity, they might learn a few lessons from her. At least on how to dress elegantly, and move lightly -- for her neighbors walked around in a rhinoceros stampede that made the crystal chandelier in the hall tremble and tinkle.
In that hallway, that often smelled to boiled eggs and coarse tobacco, she realized the heated dialogue with Laurent was a scene many of her neighbors were watching from behind their doors. She pictured them in old underwear or pajamas, picking their teeth or noses, unable to understand more than just a few words -- if any of them spoke French, she hadn't come across him or her yet. While she was ready to go to theater herself -- wearing the new Prada black gown she had bought that very morning --, they were enjoying their homely stage with her.
Upon identifying Laurent's name on the mobile's screen, she had asked Vladimir to fetch her stole, though she was comfortable enough. Catherine had been waiting for her son to make contact, for she knew it would be worse to push him when he was in one of his hurtful moods. She also knew she should better no longer avoid talking to him. She picked the call at Laurent's second try, entertaining hope that they wouldn't fight -- but they had seriously argued, and the end of their conversation couldn't have been more melancholic.
"Laurent? Listen to me... Laurent!" It seemed like he had not only hang up, but typically, also disconnected his phone. She had heard a shower being turned on in the back of their conversation, and it was very probable that her son was not alone. Was he, ever?
"Your son is not a child, Katerina." She startled, hearing Vlad's comment immediately after Laurent had hang up. "He is old." Her young lover was at the mirror, grooming himself -- or pretending to, since the light in the hallway was so dim and on the tainted surface, images were barely visible.
"Old? He is older than you, Vlad, but not so much older, I should say..." She giggled.
"Old enough, Katerina, that's what I want to say. You should not treat him like a child. You are justifying his very bad behavior." He was at the mirror trying to look busy and self-important, as if he hadn't been there plainly waiting for her. And showing off his costume, too, because he knew she liked it when he dressed more formally.
"Not that again, Vlad!" She had chosen and bought his new clothes, and they fitted him perfectly. It was much better than the ragged jeans and the stained leather jacket he used to wear trying to look modern and European. Still, wearing formal clothes as if they were a plaster cast, Vladimir's unlikely elegance was, at best, that of a Russian mafioso.
"There is another case of pederasty in the newspapers today. Another dirty priest." He sounded awfully serious and offended. Maybe it was his way of protesting, when she had fooled him about the coat, and kept him waiting for so long.
"And how does that relate to my son?" Catherine asked, with a sigh. Vlad's reasoning being like quicksand, she knew she was going to be dragged into the darkest ages of prejudice.
"The priest was an homosexual molesting little boys. You are not going to defend pederasty, Katerina, are you?"
"Of course not!" She hadn't taken her earring off, and after having pressed it against the screen of her mobile phone for so many minutes, she had a headache, making her feel defeated before the combat had even started. "Pederasty is a crime! And those priests are sick, and they need treatment. But do you realize you didn't mention them in your first sentence as homosexuals? The problem here is not their homosexuality, but their pederasty."
"Katerina! Don't try to fool me! They molested little boys, not little girls! They are sick homosexuals."
She tried to think Vlad's bad French was keeping him from being a more reasonable person, unable to express what he really meant... Or maybe it was actually preventing him from being even worse?
"That is not the problem." She continued. "It's probably because they are claustrophobically closeted, and in a position of social power, that they become abusers. Laurent is gay but he has never abused a boy, because he can live his sexuality openly, in a very healthy and happy manner. Religion, and its hypocritical rigidity, might be much more the problem here, leading to sexual abuse. And of course they abuse little girls, too, if that's their sexual preference. If they could be open about their sexuality, and have partners, those priests might not be abusing boys--"
"Are you talking about openly gay priests?" Vladimir grunted, either emphasizing his opinion, or from having removed one of the many blackhead that dotted his face. "That we should accept gay priests? And that they could have partners? Gay married priests? That's so sick! You must be crazy, Katerina!" He sneered.
"I know. I am crazy. Happily crazy!" They had been shopping that morning, and she had spent a small fortune. Designer clothes in Russia were much more expensive than in Paris, but she wouldn't deprive herself. Buying fashion was also a way to honor Celeste's inheritance, that she was now living on, and instead investing all her royalties and paychecks. "Otherwise, life would be so boring, and I, myself, so tedious! Don't you think so, darling? And you, Vlad? Don't you think you might be gay? You can't stop talking about my son, and specially about the fact that he is gay. Maybe you are falling for my handsome son--"
"You are crazy indeed, woman." He glanced sideways at her from the mirror, where his reflection appeared horribly distorted. "Of course I am not gay! I am a very healthy person! I don't desire little boys. And how can you be so sure about your son? I mean, how do you know he has never abused little boys? It's very common among gays, you see... Maybe you are hiding a criminal, and defending him!" Vlad was left nearly breathless by his impassioned opinions.
"Laurent, a criminal! That's grotesque and obtuse, and so rude of you, Vlad! I shall always defend my son, of course, whenever it's appropriate to defend him." Such an irony, she thought, when currently he keeps accusing me. "And I will always defend him against himself, that is the most important, you see." She murmured the last sentence, wanting to keep it to herself, but not willing to silence it. "And he always seems to need it..."
"See, Katerina, even you agree with me that you need to defend your son against himself."
"Just like I should defend you from yourself, Vlad..." If only I cared for you like I care for my son, she thought. "I should defend you from your monstrously antiquated prejudices, for instance. Vlad, you are so similar to Laurent, more than you'd like to admit! I know you have been dating older women, almost exclusively. Don't you think you might be seeking your mother in them?" And am I not impersonating your mother right now, she wondered. "Just like Laurent is seeking his father in all the men he dates. The boy he loved most was Italian, like his father... and--" Catherine decide to quit talking about Laurent, realizing she was just giving more ammunition to her lover.
"Then he's been seeking a lot, Katerina!" Vlad grimaced, and his voice was leaking irony. "I read on the internet that in his exhibition are displayed the portraits of 45 of his ex-lovers... Do you think that is normal, Katerina?"
Naturally, she knew that already. Instead of being the least horrified, Catherine thought she should have kept a record of all the lovers Laurent had mentioned to her -- at least as a list for male character's names. She was pretty sure they were a couple of hundred at least, and not just forty five. When everybody thought Laurent was making up and showing off, she actually knew her son was being quite modest and discreet.
"Laurent has a big heart." She hesitated, since she wanted to mention another big organ her son had, just to shock Vladimir. "A big broken heart. And the wounds have made his heart even bigger, by cracking it open... Laurent's heart is constantly bleeding, continuously swelling..." She loved the image of men being swollen by Laurent's big heart, and that when they were ejected off it, or simply dumped, they came out bleeding like him. But it was not the same sort of blood she seemed to find everywhere in Russia, where all stories ended or began with assassination; Laurent's was the tragically romantic blood of a brokenhearted heartbreaker. "Maybe I should break your heart, Vlad." It had just occurred to her. "And you know why? Because it would grow a bit larger, and perhaps more compassionate too, so that more people would fit in it. Unless you are a coward, and decide to protect yourself by shrinking it. But I don't think you are a coward. Nor do I think you love me enough to be heartbroken if we'd split."
From inside one of the apartments, a cat screeched, and from another, an alarm clock had started. She had heard it before, and knew it could go on for hours, if the tenant had left. She also noticed that a few more pieces from the crystal chandelier were missing. Someone was either selling them or taking them to repair their own.
Vlad finally left the mirror, and took two heavy steps in her direction, menacingly. "Of course I'm not a coward, Katerina! And of course I love you! But don't try to break my heart... or I'll break your legs!" His whole body tensed, as he hissed those last words. She saw saliva flying from his mouth, and she backed a little, giving the wrong impression that she feared him.
He must be speaking like his father now, Catherine guessed. He probably would like to be spanking like him, too -- Vladimir had clutched his fist and seemed to make an effort to avoid hitting her.
But she wasn't afraid. Again, she wondered what kind of abuses Vladimir must have suffered from his father. He had actually started their conversation by mentioning little boys being abused. Looking at Vladimir, for the first time she realized her tormented lover would make a wonderful and practical research field on domestic violence, and Catherine started thinking she should consider that as one of the main themes for her next novel.
Otherwise, having a young lover was so tedious, Catherine thought. Because she had teased him about being gay and a coward, he would probably be more passionate at love making that evening, as they'd come back from theater and dinner. Just to prove to himself he was a real macho. It was that easy to arouse him.
And he would also try to be romantic, to prove that he loved her. No flowers nor any presents, since Vlad was always penniless -- and she have to ask herself seriously one day if poor men were a fetish she cultivated, unconsciously. He would probably deliver another poem overflowing with powerfully evocative words, written within a few minutes, at the dozens if he wanted to. Obviously, the poem would be in Russian, and when he'd try to translate it into French Vlad would be utterly frustrated, and maybe again find some motivation to go back to the University to study French. She surely enjoyed having the young man in her bed, but she'd like to have him again among her students rank, too. Trying to communicate with her would enable him to finally communicate with everyone else in France, Catherine pondered, and she was just trying to act like a bait to the big lazy fish boy.
It was that easy to manipulate men -- a talent that was innate to her as much as it had been refined and perfected with Celeste's practical lessons at home.
"We can go now. I hate being late." On saying those words, Catherine shivered, for they sounded awfully like her mother's.
"Well, it's not my fault if we are late." His outrage made him drool. "And I know, again you will defend and protect your son. Let's go." He snatched her coat from the arm of the single, rickety chair that stood in the hallway, where he had left it hanging. "I'm tired of waiting!"
Watching Vladimir fleeing down the steps, Catherine wondered if he was still feeling embarrassed.
That morning, she had surprised him on her computer, looking at the picture of a naked, well hung man.
"Oh, I'm sorry if I'm intruding!" She giggled at the vision of the beautifully well defined torso and powerful thighs that reminded her of the Riace bronzes -- though, unlike them, the depicted young man boasted an impressive erection.
"It's not what you think!" Her lover had retorted swiftly, openly ashamed, startling at her presence by his side.
"Of course not!" She retorted, amused. She had dated young men before, and a couple of them had declared themselves bisexuals. Vlad wouldn't state anything so contemporary and defiant about himself, but still, she wouldn't be surprised if, like other men his age, he was experimenting with his sexuality. "That's a boner in the picture, that's all. It can be a metaphorical image, I guess! It's not porn, is it?"
"Do you think it's porn, Katerina?" Vladimir inquired, and by his triumphant tone, Catherine knew she had been caught in a trap. "Well... supposedly, this is art!" He twisted his mouth with disgust. "Your son's art, Katerina! How about that?"
And though they had engaged in yet another discussion about Laurent, his sexuality and his 'degenerate art', in her lover's own terms, Catherine wondered whether the young man's fixation on her son wasn't down to sexual attraction, like her boyfriend so vehemently insisted in denying.
So -- would Laurent's revenge come that way, she wondered? Hooking her Russian lover across the oceans? The explicit nudity of his paintings were all over the internet now, though she hadn't checked them herself.
But the possibility of Laurent taking revenge on her did not exist.
Since he couldn't possibly know that, just once, she had stolen a guy from him. It was more like she had borrowed him -- it had been a one night affair, tormented and fiery and redemptive. She hadn't foreseen it, unthinkable as it was that she should compete with her son for the love of men.
Laurent couldn't possibly know -- he shouldn't know, and she dismissed those memories with a shiver, her heart shattering at the simple thought that he could one day find it out.
this is the conclusion of
First Trasmission | The Heart
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.