Year created: 1996
Chapter: “Goodbye to the Motherland”
Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan
Written: 1999 or 2000
Computer created on: I want to say the ’93 Mac, though this was a period when I was going back and forth between that Mac and the newer ’96 or ’97 one and converting files back and forth between MacWriteII and ClarisWorks.
If it was on the ’93 Mac, it was MacWriteII. If it were the newer machine, it would’ve been ClarisWorks.
This is Chapter 21 of my first Russian historical novel, and the closing chapter of Part I, “Russia.” Reading the end of Chapter 19, “Kalinin,” and the whole of Chapter 21 really chokes me up. These people are saying goodbye to the land where they grew up and believed they’d grow old and die in. They have to get into Estonia (which was not part of the USSR till 1940) and then to America to save their lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.
The chapter opens in Novgorod, where Lyuba’s party of 12 has been split up among four cabins provided for them by their friend Pyotr, who’s risking his life by double-crossing his father and older brothers to save his friends. At this point, Lyuba and Ivan are essentially living together as husband and wife, though still without sex. Trouble comes when they discover the Godunov cousins are in the area, along with Pyotr’s father and brothers, still hunting for Ivan.
Pyotr hustles them into Pskov, but the manhunt extends there next, and then it’s a race against time to get everyone into Estonia. Even after they’re all in Estonia, after a dramatic escape, the hunters continue closing in. A rather unlikely person saves Lyuba and Ivan in Tallinn, though the wrong directions he gives unintentionally lead to another person the Godunovs have been looking for, as is revealed in Part II.
“Go on your walk with Zhóra.” Lyuba points to Ginny’s coat. “I do wish you’d pick up your clothes instead of just flinging them on the floor.”
“Don’t look. I just saw someone who could turn my cousin and her boyfriend into the authorities. Shepilov.” Ginny’s voice drops down to a whisper.
“There were men around asking about a tall man whom you seem very much to resemble.” An old fat woman comes up to them. “Are you by any chance wanted for murder back in Moskvá?”
A week and a half and one hundred fifty kilometers later, they arrive in Pskov. There’s no time to take in the beauty of the last Russian city they’ll be setting foot in before they cross the border over to Estonia and the coast. Pyotr shuttles them quickly into a large imposing-looking house under cover of darkness. He orders them not to leave the house or make any noise. All the shades are pulled and drawn. The floors are padded with extra-thick carpets. No sunlight is allowed in. Lyuba already wants to scream after two weeks of this locked-up existence. It’s as worse as when they went to the first hiding place in April of 1917. They hear boots in the night, every night, and the sounds of riots and strikes going on, but they cannot peer out to see what’s going on. Pyotr has to come in and out of the house by an airvent covered over with slush.
“I’ve seen a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes going in and out of this house by a back entranceway. We have reason to believe this young man is helping a convicted criminal. You wouldn’t happen to be sheltering a rather tall young man with brown hair and eyes, would you?”
That evening Lyuba goes upstairs to put Tatyana to bed and notices Iván and Nikolás are nowhere to be seen. Then she sees one of the windows broken and the curtains flying in the breeze. Two sets of footprints in the snow. Quickly she plugs the window with a pillow and waits for the nightly visit from Pyotr.
“This is the last Russian city you’ll be seeing for a long time,” he whispers as they climb up into a cattlecar of an abandoned train he’s gotten an Azerbaijani émigré to operate. “Look back and remember it.”
Kittey reaches down and scrapes away the snow on the ground until she reaches dirt. She scoops up a handful of dirt into a miniature porcelain teacup. “I’ll keep this Russian soil until I’m old and gray.”
The smell of blood is in the air the next morning. Rotting bodies are everywhere when she peeks out through the crack. Fires are spreading. And to top it all off, Pyotr comes into the house to inform her that the Azerbaijani émigré who was operating the train has been arrested, and that he himself was being watched late at night by the awful Godunov cousins.
“Don’t look back. You cannot make a single noise. I’m going to carry you, you’re going to carry Tatyana, Tatyana will carry her doll, and this is how we’ll leave Matusa Rus.”
Iván slips a large emerald ring with small accent diamonds onto her finger. “I’m twenty-two years old and you’ve finally consented to be my wife, the fifth time I ask you!”