In loving memory of my paternal grandpap, who passed from this life eight years ago today.
Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week’s excerpt is from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 42, “Spring Renewal.” This particular section of the chapter is set in June 1938, as 31-year-old Inna Zhirinovskaya finally ends her spinsterhood by marrying smitten former prince Arkadiy (Arkasha) Orlov. Arkasha has been in Persia since 1918, when he was 13 years old, but Inna only arrived in June 1937, when she, her old orphanage mother, and some of the orphanage children and workers defected from the USSR by stealth.
The Persian chapters and sections in this book are among my favorite to write, partly because of my own connection to an Iranian family, many years ago, and partly because it’s an entirely new area for my writing to be set. The Soviet characters who’ve escaped to Persia have settled in Isfahan, a beautiful, historic city that was the capital for many years. I felt putting them in Tehran would be too expected and boring.
Though Ínna and Arkásha don’t have a drop of Persian blood in them, they’ve decided to inject a Persian flavor into their wedding. On the first weekend in June, Ínna sets out from the orphanage in a horse-drawn cart, heading for Arkásha’s courtyard. Arkásha commissioned a seamstress to design a bright red gown with blue and white flowers, topped off by a delicate red and turquoise veil and a matching necklace and earrings, plus the necklace from Aden. This is by far the fanciest thing Ínna has ever draped herself in, even fancier than the gown she bought for her birthday.
“Are you sure you couldn’t have worn white?” Ohanna teases. “I thought Russian brides preferred that color nowadays.”
“When would I have ever had the opportunity to sleep with a man? Besides, I like the bright colors non-Western brides wear. I’d never want to publicly let everyone know about my chastity anyway.”
“You’re going to love being able to do more than just kiss,” Alína says. “But don’t feel you have to do everything tonight. Amiran didn’t want to scare or overwhelm me with too much at once. He wanted to make sure I was used to everything. If Arkásha tries to make you do anything you don’t want, a well-placed knee will get him to back off instantly.”
Ínna giggles. “Somehow I can picture you doing just that.”
“Will Arkásha mind you’re not wearing your eyeglasses?” Izabella asks. “He seems to like you more when you wear them.”
“I wear them enough. No bride wants to wear glasses on her own wedding day. It looks less attractive in pictures and doesn’t match with a wedding gown.”
When they reach the courtyard, Vítya steps forward to help her down, then helps down Mrs. Brézhneva, Velira, and the others. She’s proud to see her brother in formal clothes for the first time in his life. Even when he married Mánya, he only wore a starched blue shirt and pressed black pants with leather shoes. She can only assume Arkásha has also paid for the tailor to make Vítya’s first and only suit.
Two large, overstuffed purple velvet cushions are set before a long blue satin cloth embroidered with gold and set with a mirror flanked by candelabras; a silver tray piled high with seven brightly-colored spices; baskets of pomegranates, walnuts, hazelnuts, Jordan almonds, decorated eggs, and apples; a large nan-e sangak inscribed with the traditional wedding blessing, “Mobarak Baad,” in cinnamon; a bowl made from crystallized sugar; silver bowls of rosewater and golden coins; a brazier of burning coals sprinkled with wild rue incense; a golden cup of honey; two sugar cones; numerous platters of pastries and sweets; and Arkásha’s old family Bible on an orange and green prayer rug. All around the courtyard and the sofreh aghed, urns of vibrant flowers have been placed.
Ínna has a seat to Arkásha’s right, smiling nervously at her intended, as a blue and lavender silk cloth is held over their heads by Firuza, Mrs. Brézhneva, Maral, Alína, Ohanna, and Izabella. Zavik stands behind them, grinding together the sugar cones over the cloth to symbolize sweetness pouring down on their heads. To satisfy the demands of the anti-religious shah, a notary public will perform the legal part of the ceremony, while one of the rare few Russian Orthodox priests in Persia will see to the religious side of things. Ínna hasn’t seen a priest in a good twenty years and doesn’t feel any affinity towards any sort of religion anymore, but thinks it’s a nice symbolic gesture to honor her roots.