"Do you know how it came about that I married your grand- father? He forced me!"
Forced her? Nobodyd ever talked to me about that! I was all ears.
"A fat chance he wouldve married me, if not for the Revolution. I came from a good family. And he was . . . He was . . . He didnt have a spare pair of pants to cover his . . . his male belongings!"
I couldnt believe nobody was there to stop my listening to this. I hadnt known much about my grandfather. He died shortly after I was born, and whenever somebody was around to talk about him in my presence, my mother sent the person a warning look, and he or she hurriedly changed the subject. My grandfather was a Communist and a war herothat much I knew because I had often heard my mother plead to social workers, "My father was a member of the Communist Party for thirty years, he defended Stalingrad, he has two medals of honoryou cant just cut his wifes pension." He was a handsome man; he looked like a thirties movie star in photographs, with a big lock of hair on his forehead, brilliant eyes, and a powerful jaw. At various times in his life he worked as a full-time reporter, a freelance photographer, a wine taster, an assistant to a judge, a vegetable store manager, and an amateur theater critic. (The last in the list was based on the acid letters he liked to send to newspapers whenever he disliked a play.) When I asked why he switched jobs, I was met with that wary look on my mothers face. I knew that he loved me very much. "Your grandfather was so happy when you were born that he promised to stop drinking and actually didnt drink for eight months," my uncle managed to tell me once, before my mother silenced him with her stare.
My grandfather was also a revolutionary. "A first-class revolutionary! A Communist, a proletarian, a top student in a political awareness school! I met him at just the right time," my grandmother said. "You see, my father used to own a tiny grocery store before the Revolution. And he was labeled a capitalist and an enemy of the people. We needed clean documents, we needed proof of residence . . . Your grandfather promised to help. I married him fictitiously. Fictitiously! But you know what he did? After a couple of days he just climbed into my bed and said that fictitious marriages were against the Soviet law, and he, as a Communist, couldnt possibly break the law!"
"So, what happened next, Grandma?"
"What happened next? What could happen next? He went on proving the truth of our marriage every night, sometimes twice a night. Sometimes three times!"
I didnt mind my grandmothers "medium-crazy" state at all! The only thing that bothered me was her eyes. I did what I could to avoid looking at her. Her eyes chased me. They were ready to seize me whenever I slipped and looked up at her. Then her face bloomed into a smilehalf sly, half delirious.
Such was her state on the day I cut her hair. "Dostoevsky, note italso Fedor Mikhailovich, just like your grandpawas a terrible, terrible man," she said as I reached for the scissors.
"Now sit still, Ba," I ordered as her body tilted to the side of the bed.
"How he tortured his poor wife! His muse! She was his muse, you know. Without her he wouldnt have written shit."
"I know her name. Anna Grigorievna," I said.
"Anna Grigorievna. Thats right. Oh, how he tortured her!"
"Damn! I told you to sit still!" I said as her body tilted to the other side. It wouldnt be such a big deal if she fell onto the bed, I thought, but I knew only too well how those waiflike limbs turned into dumbbells as soon as you had to pick her up. A cream-colored knitted shawl, which my grandmother liked to wrap around her legs, not so much for warmth as for its softness, drew my attention.
Excerpted from Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar Copyright © 2006 by Lara Vapnyar. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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