(Quick note: This post is bolded because the font doesn’t show up as well in plain, due to its shadow-like appearance.)
Font: Imprint MT Shadow
Year created: 1993
Chapter: “Ins and Outs of Prohibition”
Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan
Written: Spring or Summer 2001
Computer created on: Our ’99 Mac
File format: ClarisWorks
This is the 36th chapter of my first Russian historical novel, and one of the ones I had the most fun researching and writing. Overall, I loved Part II, since it’s set in America in the 1920s. It gave me the chance to write about things like Prohibition, Coney Island, immigration, flapper clothes, and silent moviestars. During the course of researching Part II, I also developed my interest in natural childbirth and the history of birth in America.
It’s April 1923, and Ivan’s father has convinced Lyuba to secretly work for him. Ivan has only touched alcohol during one very unrepresentative period in his life, and has been sorry about it ever since because of what he did to Lyuba when he was drunk out of his mind. He also has never fully forgiven his father for beating him black and blue when he was a boy, nor for some of the things he did to Lyuba together with her father. Mr. Konev claims to have repented and says he’s not an alcoholic anymore, but Ivan and his aunt Valeriya have a hard time buying his new saint act.
Mr. Konev used to have a liquor store in Russia, and now that he’s in America, he’s gone right back to the old business. It may be underground, but as he’s always rubbing in his son’s face, it makes a lot more money than working for beans in an iron factory. Lyuba, desperate for money, agrees to work for her fiancé’s father (who, by the way, is even taller than Ivan, at six feet seven).
“I can easily arrange for you to start making thirty to fifty dollars an hour!” Mr. Konev pulls up a chair at the table, takes down a glass, uncaps his cane, and pours himself a glass of beer.
“I drink from time to time. I’m not out of control about it now. I’m deeply ashamed of what I did to you and my son before when I drank.” He takes off his belovèd bowler, pulls out a false bottom, shakes out a plain white paper bag, and unties the top. “Care for some champagne truffles?”
The next morning after Iván has left for work, Lyuba begins placing the bottles into the two buckets full of ice. Some of the alcohol is pure moonshine, some is moonshine made from only grain, water, and essence of juniper, some has been made from wort and yeast, some is Vine-Glo mixed with near-beer, and the rest is malt tonic mixed with near-beer.
“Not to worry, Lyubóv Leontiyevna, these nice three men are on our side. You’d be amazed at just how many so-called officers of the law, both federal agents and policemen like these fellows, are openly enabling us to continue breaking the Volstead Act!”
Lyuba walks down to the harbor with her future father-in-law, who’s pushing Fédya’s pram as Tatyana skips behind them. There’s a long line of ships anchored three and half miles away from the shore, constantly being boarded and unboarded by alcohol connoisseurs in various types of boats. Some of the local policemen and mobsters are even casually standing by enabling this to happen right in broad daylight.
Iván has zero idea over the next week of where all this extra money is suddenly coming from. So far a modern washing machine, new kitchen and cooking appliances, and six pairs of silk stockings have materialized without an explanation.
“That’s a General Electric refrigerator, my love. And it got here just this afternoon. It only needed to be plugged in. No hassle with any belts, drains, fans, or anything. Look at how much bigger it is than the old tiny icebox! Now I won’t need to go shopping so often! The man who came to install it even told me the top of it will never get dusty. No, but you can’t look inside just yet. Not till I feel safely at liberty to tell you just why.”
“These five men are the leaders of one of the local Russian immigrant gangs,” Mr. Konev gulps. “They’ve been by to threaten me and Zákhar before, but nothing terrible ever came of it. It’s all empty words.”
“I’m not handing over my weapons to the likes of you,” Mr. Konev repeats stubbornly.
[Ivan, horrified to learn where Lyuba has been so late at night] “My son is not only in an illegal liquor store that could get raided by the police at any time, but now also in the same store as a couple of mobsters?!”
“You can clearly see the baby isn’t hurt a tad! He’s been in Zákhar’s lap all night, though he’s had to shush him periodically when he got hungry. Sure they tried to scare me into giving up my weapons and making vows to buy only their alcohol, taking target shots at him but only shooting right over his head or next to his arms—”
“His hide was saved because he ordered me into the cellar, where I saw a phone number for three ‘alcohol-friendly cops’! I can’t believe there are actually officers of the law out there who are going around protecting people who would dare violate Prohibition!” Iván goes back to Fédya and changes his diaper.