Dr Martin Meyer laid the box on the table without looking at his wife. 'Eat them quickly, before they melt.' The wrapping on the box announced Ballet's Confectioners, Nevsky Prospekt.
Raisa glanced at her husband as he took off his cap and ran a hand through his damp hair, then pushed the bridge of his wire-rimmed spectacles back up his nose. His face was clean-shaven, but glistened with sweat. He narrowed his eyes as he penetrated the interior of the dacha with an ambiguous gaze, both searching and apprehensive. His mouth was set in a grimace of discomfort.
Dr Meyer appeared still distracted by the interior of his dacha, but he had heard his wife and answered her sharply. 'Don't I bring you chocolates every Saturday? Why should today be any different?'
If she was hurt by his bristling temper, Raisa hardly showed it, although perhaps the movement of her head did have something in common with a flinch. 'It is rather warm today,' she said quietly to the table.
At last Dr Meyer tore his eyes away from the inside of the dacha, and lowered them to consider his son's handiwork. 'Why do you let him do this?' he murmured, though still he did not look at Raisa, so that at first she was not sure the question was addressed to her.
'He enjoys it.'
Dr Meyer frowned self-consciously. It was as if he was waiting for her to see his displeasure, rather than considering what she had said. Raisa Meyer watched her husband closely, though with a detachment that shocked her. His face had once been illuminated by a passionate engagement; at times he had even been capable of impetuosity, as she well knew. Something petty, a kind of wretched, angry unhappiness, had driven out this vitality.
'He enjoys it?' Dr Meyer gave the word sarcastic emphasis. 'How can we know what he enjoys or does not enjoy? Besides, this is a compulsion. One does not enjoy a compulsion. We must take steps to break it.'
"Because it is not healthy.'
'Let's not talk of him as if he were not here.'
'Your sentimental interventions ' Dr Meyer kept his eyes downcast as he spoke, as though he were scanning his son's writing for the words that he was struggling to produce, ' are not conducive to progress.'
'I am his mother.'
'Yes. And so you of all people must should be aware ' Dr Meyer broke off, pulling away the sheet that Grisha was working on. 'Just look at this!' The shock of his sudden deprivation showed in the boy's whole body, which recoiled as if charged with a spring. His arms flew up and his head began to bob. A kind of grunting moan rose in his throat.
Raisa watched him with alarm, knowing how this would end. She wanted to smother him in an embrace, to press him into her, for she knew that such a complete contact with his mother would be the only thing that would go some way to consoling him for his loss. But she felt oddly constrained in her husband's presence.
Dr Meyer read from the sheet: '"On the eleventh of June on Vasilevsky Island, the partially decomposed body of an unidentified male was discovered by a party of picnickers." And this! "A young woman, thought to be a prostitute, hanged herself from the stairwell of an apartment building on Voznesensky Prospekt." And this! "In Tsarskoe Selo, the retired Collegiate Assessor Zarnitsyn killed his wife with a revolver before turning the weapon on himself "'
'It's your newspaper!' protested Raisa.
'That has nothing to do with it! Such subjects are not suitable for a child of his ' For the first time that afternoon, Dr Meyer looked directly at his son. He did not seem to like what he saw. 'Constitution.'
'It does not matter to him what he copies. It is only important that he copies something.' Raisa snatched the paper back and returned it to Grisha, placing an arm around his shoulder and pulling him to her tightly. Grisha moaned and resumed his copying.
Excerpted from A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) June, 2008.
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