This week for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m using a sample from Chapter 34 of my Russian novel, “Changes for Katrin.” Katrin (Katariina) is my favorite female character after Lyuba, the female protagonist. It’s now the early spring of 1923, and Katrin is having a great time at her bridal shower in her Upper West Side penthouse suite. Her best friend Anastasiya, the nicer of the two antagonists of the book, is aghast at some of the gifts Katrin is receiving. (Some of the dialogue has been edited or taken out so the entire excerpt qualifies as “sweet.”)
“I got you an ankle watch,” Eliisabet says. “I read that some moviestars wear them.”
“Why would Kátya be showing her bare ankles in public?” Anastásiya asks in horror. “It’s already bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts with a bit of her lower legs showing, even covered by heavy stockings!”
“I’m going to be showing my ankles anyway, when we all go away this June to Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon. Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?”
“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”
“It only stops a quarter of the way down my upper leg, dolt. And besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”
“I got you these nice clothes from Macy’s,” Kat beams. “I don’t know why you of all people haven’t picked up the latest fashion yet.”
Katrin squeals in delight, but Anastásiya groans again.
“These clothes show off your knees and elbows!”
“You’ve seen my elbows and knees thousands of times since we were little girls.”
“But strange men haven’t, though!”
“Wow, now I won’t need to pack twenty trunks full of clothing. I can take maybe three small suitcases on my honeymoon. These outfits must weigh no more than two pounds apiece!”
“We already paint our faces. You can’t go around looking like these American women, showing their elbows and knees to the world!”
“They’re called flappers. I really like this look. I’m going to stop sketching heavy dragging dresses. Maybe that’s the real reason why no fashion school wants me, since my designs are so out of touch with current reality.”
“Oh, I’ve seen some of the things you wear, and they’re so ridiculous! How about that one hat of yours, with packs of playing cards glued on, or your feather boas, or your wigs?”
“Once I get back from my honeymoon, I’m going to start in earnest on making more modern-looking designs. I already paint my face and wear short hair; why not go one step further and start dressing the part too? Some of my outfits are truly ridiculous. I’ll never forget how Pyotr humiliated me in Tartu by throwing all my clothes and hats around, and even you, Nástya, were laughing at them! I now realize I don’t even need at least half of what I took over here, like those stupid clothes, pictures of celebrities, and nonsense like the hat with stuffed birds!”
Anastásiya shrieks again when Katrin comes out of her room modeling one of the outfits. Her arms are exposed well above her elbows, her legs are showing to a bit above the knees, and the clothing is loose instead of tight-fitting. Lyuba meanwhile is shocked to see Katrin’s bare legs for the first time.
“You shave your legs like these modern flappers?”
“I always liked to be hairless even before it became the fashion and safety razors were invented. People in places like Egypt and India have been doing it for thousands of years as a matter of cleanliness. Back in Estonia and Russia, I used sugaring to remove body hair. If you want a lesson in either sugaring or shaving, I’d be happy to teach you all my secrets.”
“Aren’t you going to at least put a corset on?” Anastásiya asks.
“I’ve never worn one. How many people here have ever worn a corset? That was all Western Europe, not Russia and Estonia! I don’t want shortness of breath, crushed ribs, and flattened breasts! Now who’s next?”
“I bought you twenty cartons of cigarettes,” Anastásiya says in a very small voice.
“What for? You know I don’t smoke.”
“But see, each carton has a different picture of a celebrity. All the handsome screen sheiks, and the stylish ladies. You can sell the cigarettes later and keep the pictures.”
“And you wonder why we all thought you were the most expendable member of our band back home,” Lyuba says. “Even Katrin wasn’t running from the Bolsheviks in Jeanne Paquin gowns, tango shoes, and full makeup.”