Posted in 1950s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

Happy Halloween!

This year’s Halloween excerpt is Chapter 122, “Heterogenous Halloween,” of A Dream Deferred, set in 1951 in St. Paul and NYC. To keep it as Halloween-specific and non-political as possible, I edited it down to 5,470 words from just over 9,000.

Irina rises early on the morning of Halloween and goes to her closet for the costume she thought up months ago. She pulls a short-sleeved, knee-length Lincoln green dress with four layers of pleats over her head, as always one of her own creations. She slips matching gauntlets onto her arms and fastens the brown leather straps. Irina savors the feeling of the brown leather belt going around her waist. This is a man’s belt, not a feminized version meant only for show.

The next costume components are a smart Lincoln green derby with a black feather on the left side, skintight Lincoln green pantalettes, and dark brown knee-high boots. Irina opens her wardrobe and takes out items she knows her father will have a couple of hemorrhages over, a dark brown leather quiver with two dozen arrows. Irina fastens a black leather sheath around her waist and puts a miniature sword inside. With the aid of her full-length mirror, she straps a bow to her back. She picks up a Lincoln green loot bag before going downstairs.

Ivan almost slices his thumb off instead of a slice of ham when Irina saunters up to the breakfast table. “Irisha, you’ve got to stop wearing such scandalous Halloween costumes! What’s wrong with your sisters’ costumes?” He motions to Sonyechka and Tamara, respectively dressed as a suffragist and Roman princess.

“It’s called having my own sense of style.” Irina pulls out her sword and slices an apple.

“Where did that come from!” Lyuba shrieks. “How did we not know you had that, or the archery equipment?”

“I got the bow and arrows in the sporting section of Golden Rule, and refused to pretend I was buying them for a boy. The sword came from Andryusha’s antiques store. There’s lots of neat stuff there.”

“Can you really shoot arrows?” Sonyechka asks.

“We sometimes do that in physical education.” Irina puts bacon, scrambled eggs, dried apricots, and herbed goat cheese on her plate.

Ivan puts cherry jam on his toast. “A more important question is what Irisha’s dressed as this year. Is this a historic woman archer?”

Irina laughs. “Don’t you recognize Robin Hood in a female form, Papa? The Lincoln green should’ve given it away immediately.”

“But that’s a man’s costume! I’m relieved you didn’t cross-dress, but if you liked Robin Hood that much, you should’ve been Maid Marian. What’s wrong with her?”

“Too passive and boring. Robin Hood gets all the action and glory.”

“How about being a woman warrior, not just a lady’s version of a famous man?” Sonyechka asks. “We should write our own stories and not let men get all the glory.”

“That’s true, but there’s also a long tradition of women playing certain male roles on the stage, like Peter Pan and Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. Other actresses were famous for playing male roles, and many operas have trousers roles. If men could play female roles for much of acting history, why can’t we do it in return?”

Ivan shakes his head as his womenfolk resume eating breakfast.


Lyudmila sends a smoldering gaze to Anton as he photographs her in a wizard costume barely meeting the fingertip rule. The studio of their Ditmas Park estate is littered with various Halloween props—crystal balls, brooms, paper moon cutouts, jack-o-lanterns, Tarot cards, stuffed black cats, cauldrons, owls, graves, zombie scarecrows, ravens, witch hats, bats, spiders. Several large trunks of Halloween costumes are off to the side. Musidora, Behemoth, and their five ten-month-old kittens prowl around and consent to being held by Lyudmila for some of the photos. These photographs will go out to clients seeking Halloween pinups, and the usual agents in charge of distributing pinups to GIs. Others are just for Anton’s eyes.

“I bet you know what this is for.” Anton hands her a heavy plastic jack-o-lantern. “You’ll get more treats tonight, but the treats in this are the kind you can keep.” He squeezes her right breast. “Not that I’m complaining about our fleeting treats. Those are a lot more fun than permanent treats, since they’re never the same twice.”

Lyudmila reaches into the jack-o-lantern and closes her hand around what feels like jewelry. She pulls out a long necklace with rough-hewn orange and black crystals first, followed by a strand of tiny, delicate pearls with a black crystal bat charm, a very wide bracelet with orange and black beads, large silver disc French hook earrings with dark blue spiderwebs painted on, and a black Bakelite brooch with nine black cherries suspended from it. At the bottom is a gold-leaf, illuminated manuscript of Rumi’s love poems.

“One year ago today, I met my zolotse and began realizing the greatest happiness of my life,” Anton says. “Little did I know I’d soon feel compelled to possess all of you, not just seduce you and have fun for a little while. I can’t wait till you’re my legal wife.”

“It’ll be too long till we have our first child.” Lyudmila pets Musidora. “Can’t we start coupling without rubbers? Dr. Sandvik said I have lowered odds of conception even after that surgery, so we might not be successful for awhile. By the time I’m free, our baby might be on the way. I hope I have identical girl twins first like my mother and Raya.”

“All things in due time, zolotse. You’ve got a great career, and shouldn’t cut it short by early motherhood. Don’t let any doctors scare you about supposed risks of having children over thirty. That’s not ideal or possible for everyone.” Anton smiles at Diana and Pamela toddling into the room, respectively dressed as a peapod and carrot. Raisa isn’t far behind them, looking more vibrant than she has in over a year.

“I’m going to miss this place when we’re back in Minneapolis,” Raisa says. “Can you arrange for Zotov to stay in Rochester even longer?”

“That’s beyond my power. Even if I could do that, Zotov can’t be too suspicious. You want a quick, clean divorce and full custody of your girls.”

Raisa kneels and puts her arms around Diana and Pamela. “I’m disgusted when I think about how I used to believe I was supposed to have one pregnancy after another, with barely any time in between. Why should I care about making up for lost time when my Diya and Melya deserve my complete attention until they’re out of babyhood? Had dear little Innokentiya and Mnemosina survived, Diya and Melya would’ve felt so cheated and ignored. Forget about the miscarried twins surviving. No woman in her right mind needs six children under the age of two.”

“I hope Zotov doesn’t immediately knock you up after your reunion,” Lyudmila says. “He doesn’t deserve any children.”

“They won’t be his children much longer, God willing. If I can finagle a divorce, Filya will adopt them. They must be so confused about who their real father is. I’ll be ill if they ever call Zotov Papa. He hasn’t done a damn thing to be worthy of that name. Even Batya is too gracious for that thing.”

“My lawyer will make sure you get an excellent divorce settlement,” Anton says. “You’re so lucky you’ve got a great second husband waiting in the wings. Most divorcées are left destitute and frequently passed up for employment.”

“Let’s not think about this now,” Raisa says. “The only thing we should care about today is having a happy Halloween.”


Milena, now in her fortieth week of pregnancy, sets off up the sidewalk with Tarmo and Meri by the hands. This year, she made Meri a bumblebee costume, a green dinosaur for Tarmo, and a gumball machine for herself. She barely fits behind the sewing machine anymore, and had to sit on her side. The sooner this baby comes earthside, the better. Milena wishes someone really could insert a nickel into her costume and cause the giant gumball to come cascading out.

Ilme and Milena come up behind them, holding Endla and Siiri by the hands. They’re each in matching mother-daughter costumes, French milkmaids and Rosie the Riveter, respectively. Endla and Siiri look around with wide eyes at all the bigger children in costumes.

“I can’t wait till mine is old enough for her first Halloween costume,” Milena says. “Though I’m glad she’s still baking. I’d hate to be housebound or in the clinic on such a fun holiday.”

“Are you afraid you’ll go into labor while we’re trick-or-treating?” Meri asks.

“Dr. Bellamy explained the difference between false and real contractions. None of the contractions I’ve felt over the last month were genuine. They’re just a dress rehearsal for the big show.”

“First-time mothers tend to go overdue,” Ilme says. “It’s not so common for a woman with a normal pregnancy to launch at exactly forty weeks.”

“You’re so lucky you’ll get to deliver in the new clinic,” Mireena says. “I wish I’d been able to enjoy such a personal experience. Dr. Bellamy’s rule-breaking didn’t extend that far. I got the next-best thing, but it wasn’t the same as birthing in a progressive clinic. Sulev and I will start trying for our next baby as soon as Ema’s free.”

“Taavi and I are waiting for that too,” Ilme says. “We would’ve begun trying already, but we didn’t want her to miss knowing another grandchild.”

“What’s the use of waiting?” Milena asks. “She might never get out.”

“She has to be freed,” Tarmo says. “Bad guys never stay in power forever. Do I have to testify at her retrial?”

“We’ll see what happens.” Milena smiles at Bogdana approaching them, pushing Eva’s pram.

“I’m a ladybug!” Klara announces. “Mama made my costume.” She leans against the pram and smiles down at her halfsister. “Evi’s an octopus.” She sounds out this word. “Očka says that word means having eight foots. It’s Greek. Evi’s a lot cuter than the pictures I saw. A real octopus isn’t purple.”

Bogdana lifts Eva out of the pram. “I had so much fun making their costumes. Being a wife and mother is so much more fun than pretending to care about studying music. I never want to resume my bachelor’s degree. That was so boring.”

“You might regret not finishing your degree someday,” Mireena says. “An educated woman is a valuable woman. Your girls will benefit from having a mother with a college education. Even if they choose to be wives and mothers only themselves, they’ll have an example of a woman with a higher education.”

“I suppose it’s not the end of the world if you never complete your degree,” Ilme says. “Life would be boring if everyone were exactly the same.” She rings the bell of a house with a blue door.

Mireena gently nudges Siiri forward. “What do you say, kallim?”

“Trick-or-treat,” Siiri says in unison with her cousins and Klara.

“Don’t they grow up so fast?” Bogdana whispers as the mistress of the house puts Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews into the children’s bags. “One day they’re babies, and the next they’re starting to become their own little people. I already feel time’s passing too fast with Evika.”

Klara runs to show her stepmother the candy in her bag, and Bogdana smiles at her. Mireena and Ilme take their daughters’ hands, and they continue to the next house.

“Do you miss not going to a college Halloween party?” Ilme asks.

“I loved going to parties and having an active social life, but Fate had other plans for me. I couldn’t imagine not being Achilles’s sweet little wifey and Klari and Evika’s mamashka. This is my life now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Achilles often told me I was screwing myself over by living my life by a set in stone checklist instead of following the dictates of my own mind and heart. It took a long time to figure out, but now I’m finally exactly where I most belong.”


Viivela smiles at Nikita and Marek as they set Halloween food on card tables and the coffeetable. Since she can’t go out, the Halloween party will come to her.

“I helped a lot,” Marek says. “Mr. Rhodes was right about how crummy Mrs. Oswald’s food wasn’t as gourmet as we thought it was. It only tasted and looked good on the outside. Inside, it was pure poison. The grub we eat now is a lot better.”

“Food always tastes best when it comes from your own hands,” Mrs. Samson says. “Even the simplest, cheapest meal feels more personal and delicious than five-star food prepared by a stranger in the world’s fanciest restaurant.”

“When you’re able to attend school again, perhaps you can join a cooking club or take cooking classes,” Nikita says.

“I’m never going back to school,” Marek says. “Even if Ema gets out of jail, the other kids will know what happened and never leave me alone. They’ll bully me every single second.”

“They won’t do that at a progressive school,” Mr. Rhodes says.

Nikita pulls a small samurai costume out of his schoolbag. “Guess who this is for, Marek.”

“Are my nieces coming?”

Nikita smiles and pets Baku. “Our furry little buddy, of course. What better costume for him? He’ll feel like he’s back in the land of his birth.”

“Can dogs wear clothes?” Viivela asks.

“Why not? I’ve seen them in catalogues.” Nikita lifts Baku onto his lap and gently maneuvers him into the costume. “You look like a million bucks now, Baku, and you match us.”

“I hope you don’t feel cheated, Nikusha,” Viivela says. “You must want to attend a real party with your friends.”

“I belong here. I’m too old for college parties. Every year, I feel more and more like a dirty old man among people barely out of high school. I barely have anything in common with the new freshmen, and they likewise feel the same.”

“But you’re only five years older than them,” Marek says. “Age differences aren’t supposed to be a big deal to grownups anymore. It’s the same reason time’s supposed to pass quicker.”

“Time doesn’t pass as quickly for me as for people well into adulthood, and age differences don’t level out like you think they do. Freshmen are barely my peers, just as I’m barely a peer to someone in his late twenties. We have different life experiences and maturity levels.” Nikita smiles at Marek. “But we’re still buddies. I’ve never seen you as a stupid, immature little kid I’m humoring. We’re genuine, equal friends.”

“Will we still be buddies after you marry Viivela?”

“Nikusha and I haven’t even gone on our first date or kissed yet,” Viivela says. “It seems obvious we should marry, but that can’t happen overnight. I’d also like to wait till Ema’s free. Mila and Vahur are waiting till then for their formal wedding, and Ilme and Mira don’t want to have more kids before then either.”

Marek takes a green hard-boiled egg out of an orange bowl and bites into it. “It’s not fair we have to put our lives on hold. More people need to protest. Mr. Brinarsky says silence is worse than active assistance, since those people know something’s wrong but choose to do jack to stop it.”

“Will you take your own advice and begin going out more?” Nikita asks. “You’re letting our enemies win when you hide at home all the time.”

“That’s different. They’re bullies who want to kill me.”

Nikita puts his arm around Marek. “No one’s going to kill you. I doubt anyone on the blacklists will be killed either, even very high-profile people.”

“Look at history,” Viivela says. “A hero always arises when it seems like things can’t get any worse. Redemption never happens overnight.”


Léa tucks her sword into its sheath and surveys herself in the full-length mirror before leaving for the Barnard-Columbia Halloween party. She spent the last week making a suit of armor from dark grey metallic fabric Pavel gave her. Had she had access to metal, she would’ve made a real suit of armor. Léa also made birthday girl Dessie’s costume, a turquoise and blue dress in the style of a Celtic warrior princess.

Beatrisa and Regina respectively assembled scarecrow and green witch costumes from storebought clothes and accessories, while Hestia bought a Little Red Riding Hood costume from Macy’s and Aelita repurposed a voluminous black velvet dress with an attached cowl and white silk cord bodice into that of a Medieval wise woman and healer who’d be accused of witchcraft.

“Dressing in men’s clothes makes me feel so powerful,” Léa declares. “I most prefer skirts and dresses, but trousers transform me from a helpless sex object to be gawked at into someone to be taken seriously. How could Jeanne d’Arc have led her troops to victory if she’d worn a damn dress? She’s my hero.”

“We call her Joan of Arc in English,” Regina says.

“I know, but that’s not her real name. No one in France called her anything but Jehanne or Jeanne, just as people in your parents’ homeland never called that incompetent buffoon of a Tsar Nicholas instead of Nikolay.”

“My father says similar things about Latinized Greek names,” Hestia says. “It’s understandable Latinized names became popular after Rome rose to power, but in the modern era, we ought to revert to proper Greek names.” She picks up her Little Red Riding Hood basket.

“Mira, can’t you take off that toothbrush moustache?” Beatrisa begs. “Everyone will give you dirty looks and immediately guess you’re not just a generic vaudeville performer.”

“What for?” Revmira adjusts her derby and swings her cane. “That Nazi goon shouldn’t have ruined this style of moustache even for a Halloween costume. I’m obviously not dressed as him.”

“Charlie Chaplin’s one of the most wanted public enemies on the blacklist,” Regina says. “Better safe than sorry.”

Revmira sticks her hands in the pockets of her baggy pants. “I’m dressing as Charlie Chaplin as a protest against his mistreatment. He was one of the most beloved people in the world for years, but now he’s worse than dirt.”

“His reputation, and the reputations of everyone else on those blacklists, will eventually be restored, and there’ll be full apologies,” Beatrisa says. “But in the meantime, it’s very dangerous to dress like him.”

“I’m sure plenty of people at this party will be dressed like Indians and Chinese. How many of them have that ancestry or any meaningful interest in those cultures? I’m dressing like Chaplin out of respect and solidarity.”

“You don’t want to end up like the Rosenbergs,” Regina says. “Better silent than a brutally honest blabbermouth.”

“What’s happening to the Rosenbergs is a complete mockery of justice,” Léa says. “I’m disgusted at all the Jewish organizations who’ve done jack, for fear they’ll be next. Dissent is what your country is founded on.”

“If I could get away with it, I’d take a ‘Free the Rosenbergs’ sign to this party and dress as a protestor,” Kommuna says. “Being Tituba is second-best, though I doubt any of these ninnies will guess the political significance of my costume, or even who I am.”

Léa leads the way to the social hall, wishing she could enjoy a private party instead of enduring a public circus full of people nothing like she is and unwilling to bend their views. The intellectual, Bohemian side of New York isn’t so felt in this Ivy League atmosphere, where everyone wants to blend in and be like everyone else.

Predictably, almost everyone has the same dozen or so popular costumes over and over again—witches, jack-o-lanterns, magicians, ghosts, wizards, Indians, Chinese ladies, cowboys and cowgirls, athletes, clowns, fairies, famous movie monsters. Léa, Revmira, and Beatrisa are among the few women not in skirts and dresses. Many people give dirty looks to Revmira, just as predicted.

Regina skips off to dance with Artur, who’s dressed like a baseball player. Hestia gently nudges Dessie towards Kasiodor, in a green velvet Renaissance costume. Léa crosses her arms every time a man looks in her direction.

“Are you free to dance, Miss Scarecrow?” a Russian-featured man in a friar costume asks Beatrisa.

“I’ll dance with any guy once if he’s not an ogre. Are you a freshman? I don’t recall seeing you at orientation.”

“I’m a junior. I bet you’ll never guess my name.”

“Is it Russian? I’d recognize your features anywhere.”

“You’re getting warmer, Miss.” He smiles at her. “But I’m no ordinary Sasha or Kolya. My name is much more uncommon, in any of its variants.”

Beatrisa thinks for a minute. “Is it Biblical?”

“No, it has other origins. All my siblings have very uncommon names, though the youngest and oldest escaped with fairly normal names. I bet you’ve never met anyone else with my name.”

“Do you have a modern Soviet name?” Beatrisa motions to Revmira, Aelita, and Kommuna. “They, and everyone in their family, have those names in lieu of traditional Russian names.”

“Belarusian,” Aelita corrects her. “We’re not Russian.”

“I was born in America, and my parents have no love for anything Soviet,” the friar says. “You can guess by letter, and see if you can match the correct letter to my unusual name.”

Beatrisa goes through the letters one by one, until he finally nods at the letter N. She tries to think of any unusual Russian male names starting with N, and unsuccessfully guesses Nikandr, Nikifor, Nikanor, Nikodim, Nikomed, and Nektoriy.

“My name is Niktopolion, after a fourth century martyr. There’s also a poet by that name, but my parents probably don’t know or care about him. They care less about modern culture. I go by Niko.”

“What a long-winded, pretentious name!” Beatrisa says. “Does anyone ever call you Niktopolion besides in official situations?”

“Never. Only my parents use my pompous real name. It’s pointless to give a kid a name he never goes by in real life, but my parents sure loved saddling us with rare names to show off their knowledge of Orthodoxy.” He smiles at her. “What’s your name?”

“Beatrisa, after my paternal babushka whom I’ve never met. What’s your surname? Perhaps we have a connection.”

“My surname’s just as unusual and long-winded as my first name. You don’t have to tell me Niktopolion Ugolnikov sounds like a joke name.”

Beatrisa’s eyes widen. “Might you be related to Captain Nestor Ugolnikov, a former Marine with a missing leg?”

“That’s my big brother, whom I haven’t been allowed to see since he came home from Iwo Jima. Our parents lied to our priest about Nestik becoming an atheist and violently rejecting Orthodoxy. Even after being excommunicated by all this city’s churches, my parents still insist they were in the right for disowning Nestik and lying about him.”

“Might you have any other brothers?” Kommuna asks. “We’ve got two first-year friends looking for guys to date. They’re at NYU’s women’s auxiliary.”

“I’ve got a freshman brother at Parsons. You’ll never guess his name either. Panteleimon, Panya for short. My sisters are Simforoza, Feofaniya, and Albina. Like I said, the oldest and youngest got the most normal names.”

“Why don’t we dance?” Beatrisa asks. “If you’re a good enough dancer, I’ll go out with you this weekend. Perhaps we can double with your brother and whichever girl he likes most.”

Niko smiles at her and steps onto the dancefloor.


Irina almost drops her cup of punch when she notices Rhonwen kissing a boy in a matador costume at the school Halloween dance. Rhonwen, dressed as Wonder Woman, returns to the refreshments table twenty minutes later, on the arm of her matador. She whispers to him before taking Irina by the arm and walking into the hall. Rhonwen pushes open a door under a barely-used stairwell, pulls on the lightbulb, and beckons to Irina.

Irina props her bow against a broken chair and has a seat on the beaten-up tan corduroy loveseat with Rhonwen. “Have you been drinking?”

“Not one drop. Where would I have gotten alcohol?”

“Then what were you doing with that guy? Did he force you?”

“I’ve been interested in Steve for awhile. This isn’t recent. Believe me, I very carefully thought about the situation from all angles before making my decision. I’d never do something like this lightly.”

Irina calls to mind images of Léa and Rhonwen exchanging little looks, touching one another for a split second before anyone could take note, and doing the intimate things she walked in on. “But you promised to stay faithful to Léa. If you lost interest in her, you should’ve been honest before starting to date guys again.”

“I truly loved Léa and thought we’d be together for always, but since she’s been away at Barnard, our lives have begun going in different directions. I suspect she’s cooled in her feelings too. Her letters aren’t those of a passionate lover, even considering the consequences of discovery. Léa’s building a new life, and it doesn’t include me, just as my life no longer includes her.”

“How long did you wait before giving up on your love? People who deeply love one another don’t just shrug and abandon the relationship after a short separation. My parents had several separations, and they never fell out of love, even during the times when they weren’t a couple.”

Rhonwen pulls her simple gold cross necklace out of her costume. “They had a much longer, stronger relationship. Maybe Léa and I were only meant to be together for a year and a half, in a very passionate burst, and then go our separate ways. Not all relationships are meant to last forever, no matter how deeply the couple loves each other.”

“But liking boys isn’t who you really are. No girl has a secret affair with another girl if she’s not a real Sapphist.”

Rhonwen shifts position on her pillow. “I don’t think I can handle a lifetime of secrecy and lies. My love for Léa was very real, and I really did believe we’d live together happily forever in a Boston marriage, but feelings are allowed to change. Call me a coward and sellout if you want, but my future no longer includes Léa.”

Irina removes her quiver and sets it on her armrest. “But if you truly love only women, you won’t be happy with any man. You’ll be faking your way through life and hurting someone who loves you. It’s not fair to date or marry anyone you don’t feel equally about.”

“I never stopped liking guys, though it’s difficult to readjust. It felt so right with Léa, but this feels right in a different way.” Rhonwen looks down at her necklace. “Even if Léa were a boy, we have a religious divide. Some couples might make it work, but I can’t see a way over all those stumbling-blocks. I never thought about the longterm repercussions of not only a Boston marriage, but an interfaith relationship.”

“Does Léa have any idea you feel this way? You can’t decide your relationship is over without informing her. She’ll keep making plans for your future if she assumes you’re still a couple.”

Rhonwen tucks her necklace back into her costume. “I don’t know how to tell her, and breaking up in a letter seems so cold. As cowardly as this is, I’d prefer she guess from fewer and fewer letters, with less and less personal content. There’s no easy, nice way to tell someone you’ve lost interest.”

“Saying nothing and putting it off sets the stage for an even harder confession and uglier fallout. I’d hate for a guy to tell me he lost interest and was seeing someone else. Don’t you think Léa would appreciate knowing sooner than later? Better to yank off a bandage than gently ease into it. Get that fear over with at once.”

“I know I should, but I don’t want to hurt Léa after how much and long I loved her. We had such a great relationship.” Rhonwen crosses her ankles.

Irina adjusts her derby and puts her quiver back on. “I ought to drive Sonya and Klepa home soon. We’ll discuss this more later.”

Rhonwen stands up. “This party will probably be over soon, and I need to be back in my dormitory by curfew.”

“School dances and parties are so boring.” Irina picks up her bow and opens the door. “I hope college parties are much more interesting.”


A large fortune cake is at the center of Andrey, Tomik, and Vilorik’s table, ringed by bowls, plates, and platters of Halloween-themed snacks and baked goods. Since Andrey has been so preoccupied with Katrin’s retrial, Tomik and Vilorik had to decorate the apartment and do almost all the food preparation. Every so often, the couples in attendance step onto the fire escape balcony or into one of the spare rooms to make out. Igor, dressed as a magician, feels queasy every time they do this.

“It’s such poor manners to excuse yourself to do that,” he whispers to Violetta. “Makeout parties are bad enough. Don’t they get enough every day?”

“Obviously not.” Violetta flaps the owl wings sewn to the back of her brown dress. “Since we’ve been on third base, I wish we could do that every single day. It was stupid to avoid anything beyond handholding for so long. Don’t you want to go all the way while we’re still together?”

“We’ll be together for the rest of our lives if I have anything to say about it. Why wouldn’t we be? You’re my unofficial fiancée. Before you know it, we’ll be man and wife.” Igor puts his hand on Violetta’s abdomen. “By next year at this time, Baby Koneva could be growing inside you.”

“If only I could have children.”

“You shouldn’t be so pessimistic before we’ve had a chance to try. Even if you are unable to have kids, I’ll still love you. We’ll have a great life together as just the two of us, or adopt a few kids and love them just as much as if we created them.”

Ilya, dressed in an Oktoberfest costume, walks up to the fortune cake and picks up a large ivory-handled knife. Milada, whose costume as always matches his, closes his hand over his as they cut the cake.

“Those charms are a load of premodern, superstitious nonsense,” Tomik scoffs when Luiza, dressed as a tavern maiden in green, hands him a plate. “People create self-fulfilling prophecies, or the charms just happen to coincide with things that would’ve happened regardless.”

“It’s a fun Halloween tradition.” Zhdana perches on his lap and slides her hand up his Viking robe. “Someone’s really hot and bothered. I’ll have to come home late tonight so I can relieve you of that uncomfortable congestion. A good Viking wench always satisfies her man.”

“We didn’t need those images!” Igor shouts.

Luiza hands Igor and Violetta plates. Igor pokes his fork into the cake at several places to make sure he doesn’t bite into the charm. Unlike other fortune cakes, this one doesn’t have charms baked in with ribbons.

“A ring!” Zoya exclaims when Igor holds his up. “You’re next to marry!”

Violetta looks at the floor as she holds up a rattle.

“Next to have a baby!” Zoya smiles at Violetta and Igor. “You can’t write that off as coincidence and superstition.”

“You gave us these charms on purpose,” Violetta says. “You know I’m not destined for marriage and motherhood.”

“It was completely random,” Vilorik says. “You shouldn’t believe in that bunk. Modern, rational, sensible people know fortunetelling isn’t real.”

Zoya turns pale when she beholds her charm, bells.

“You’re soon to be wed!” Zhdana says. “I wish I’d gotten a charm proclaiming an upcoming wedding. A shamrock just means luck is in my future.”

Andrey holds up a heart.

“Your love is a true love,” Luiza says. “Don’t you think it’s long past time you admitted you and Zosha ought to marry? No one goes steady for over two and a half years if they’re not in love. If you were going to break up to seek greener pastures, you would’ve done it a long time ago. The same goes for you, Letta. You might’ve convinced yourself this relationship can’t culminate in marriage, but your actions speak louder than words. We all know you love each other.”

“I’ll marry when I’m good and ready,” Andrey says. “Maybe Zosha and I do love each other, but that doesn’t mean we need to marry. She also needs an Orthodox husband.”

“Don’t rule anything out,” Milada says. “Just a few months ago, I let myself believe I couldn’t marry Ilyushka till he graduated, and now I’m the happy Mrs. Koneva. You’re only helpless against circumstances if you let yourself be held hostage to them instead of asserting yourself as master of your own destiny.”

Posted in 1940s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, holidays, Igor Konev the younger, Ilya, Ivan, Lyuba, Violetta, Writing

Happy Halloween!


To mark Halloween, I’m presenting another Halloween chapter in its entirety. This year, it’s Chapter 10, “Harried Halloween,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University (with some extra paragraph breaks!). The settings are NYC and the Twin Cities area, 1948. (If you want something much shorter, this is yesterday’s post. Or you could just scroll through my vintage images.)


The morning of Halloween, Irina wakes up early and pulls together her costume.  Though she’s sure she won’t win any of the categories in the school’s contest at the party tonight, not even some honorable mention or sympathy prize, no one’s stopping her from coming to church in costume.

She wishes she had the guts to wear a sexy witch costume like Katya wore on her first date with Dmitriy, but she’d probably get arrested for indecent exposure, and get a lot of disgusting, randy reactions from all the male members of the species.  Irina and her older sisters are built like Lyuba, with womanly curves in all the right places, and they’ve never attempted to hide it in loose clothing.  Wearing that kind of costume would make Irina look like even more of a siren than a girl without much of a bustline or hips.


This year, Irina has elected to wear a saloon girl costume.  It shows off her best assets without making her look like some shameless harlot, and isn’t dull, bland, or cliché like some of the costumes she has no doubt she’ll be seeing today, like a clown, pumpkin, or fairy.  She’s chosen the classic red dress with black lace, white silk stockings held up by black garters, black block heels, peacock feathers for her hair, and a red feather boa she scrounged up somewhere.

For a final risqué touch, she gave herself a second set of ear piercings last night after she was supposed to be in bed.  She has French hook peacock feather earrings in her five-year-old original ear piercings, and golden French hook earrings with three purple pearls in the new piercings.  Never one to skimp on jewelry, Irina adds a blue opal bracelet to her right hand, a fire opal bracelet to her left hand, and a lapis lazuli necklace.


Irina has a few costume rings, though she doesn’t want to add even more jewelry and crowd herself.  She’s realized, through the last few years of starting to cultivate her own style, that it’s all about moderation and even, tasteful distribution.  Too many loud colors and patterns, or too much jewelry, will only serve to distract attention away from what she set out to accentuate.  A striking costume necklace will get lost among five other necklaces, or people will only look at a bunch of animal prints instead of a jaguar print collar complemented by blacks and purples.

Ivan almost drops his tea when Irina saunters down to the breakfast table, and Lyuba shrieks.  Irina just takes her seat, as though she’s wearing an ordinary outfit and not the raciest thing she’s ever worn.


“What is this!” Ivan runs for a black shawl and throws it over Irina’s shoulders. “You can’t go to church looking like that, or your school’s party!  You’ll be suspended again, and your mother and I could be arrested for letting you leave the house like that!”

“Oh, take it easy, Papa.  It’s Halloween, not a regular day.  I’m a saloon girl, not a nun.  You can’t honestly expect me to wear a conservative gown like Anastasiya for this kind of costume.”

“There’s a lot of happy medium between Voroshilova’s stupid outfits and this!  Do you want boys or, God forbid, grown men to make catcalls and touch you?”

“I’m not revealing anything I shouldn’t.  My boa covers my shoulders enough, and my skirt meets the fingertip rule.”

Lyuba gets a closer look at Irina’s ears and shrieks again. “Please tell me those are just clip-ons!  You can’t go to church looking like some Gypsy, and after today, you can’t get away with that by claiming it as part of some costume.”

“They’re real, and I already love them.  It didn’t hurt too much, and it only took about fifteen minutes.”


Ivan crosses himself when he realizes Irina has given herself a second set of ear piercings. “What did you do something like that for!  That’s not what nice Russian girls do, or even nice American girls!  At least tell us you’ll take those ridiculous things out after today, and let them heal up.  I’ve never heard of going to so much effort for a costume that just lasts one day.”

“Oh, believe me, I’ll keep them forever.  It really goes with my unique sense of style.  I love creating my own fashions instead of doing what everyone else does.  I’m already one of only a few girls at that damned school with real pierced ears, and now I’ll be the only one with two sets.”

“I bet you anything they make you take them out on Monday.  Father Demofil might order you to leave church and not come back till you can put on something decent.  When have you ever seen anyone come to church dressed like that?  I bet even that crazy Katrin’s outlandish Unitarian church doesn’t allow that.  Dress codes exist for a reason.”

5611835 (9001135) Cyd CHARISSE (*08.03.1921 - 17.06.2008), amerikanische Schauspielerin und T‰nzerin, posiert zwischen K¸rbissen in einem Hexenkost¸m mit Besen, 1949. [Nutzung nur mit Genehmigung und gegen Honorar, Beleg, Namensnennung und zu unseren AGB. Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung. Honorare an: KEYSTONE Pressedienst, HASPA, BLZ 20050550, Kto. 1235130877], s/w, 20. Jahrhundert, Personen, Name= Charisse, Cyd, a00694, amerikanische, br¸nett, Br¸nette, geb. 08.03.1921, gest. 17.06.2008, Schauspielerin, T‰nzerin, Hochformat, Innenaufnahme, 1940er Jahre, Halloween, Kost¸m, kost¸miert, Hexe, Hexenkost¸m, Besen, K¸rbisse, posert, posieren, posierend

“If it bothers you that much, I’ll keep this stupid shawl on during church, but I’ll only wear the boa to the party.  Almost no one likes me at that stupid school, and now I’ll show them up at their own party.  I’ll have the most creative, unique costume by far, even if they won’t award me any prizes.  I’m the new girl, and don’t deserve to have my existence acknowledged.  Anyone not there since kindergarten or first grade doesn’t count, and might as well be a wild animal in their midst.”

“What about that nice new friend of yours, the short-haired girl with the odd name and purple eyeglasses?” Lyuba asks. “Even she wouldn’t wear something so offbeat and harlot-like.”

“I won’t know till I see her tonight.  She stands out from the crowd too, so I bet you anything she won’t exactly be wearing some boring nurse or cat costume.”

“Can Toma and I wear our costumes to church too?” Sonyechka pleads.

“No,” Lyuba and Ivan say in one voice.


Irina serves herself hard-boiled eggs, toast with blueberry jam, and tomato slices.  Her family still takes Communion almost every single week, but since her parents have adopted the celebration of Halloween, they treat this modern, Western holiday similar to a feast in the Orthodox calendar, and thus don’t feel the need to fast or take Communion.  This pleases Ivan to no end, since he begs for breakfast all other Sundays of the year, as though he’s a small child who can’t understand why his wishes aren’t being met.

“Maybe the custom at Father Demofil’s church is to let people wear Halloween costumes,” Tamara says with a mouth full of tomatoes. “Then we’ll all be the odd ones out, while Irinushka will look like the normal one.”


Ivan fixes her with a meaningful look. “Halloween isn’t an Orthodox holiday.  Even our All Souls’ Day isn’t the same day as in the Western churches.  At best, some Orthodox churches suggest people do something for All Hallows’ Eve to conform to the dominant culture in an appropriate, understandable way and keep people from observing the real Halloween.  It’s unusual enough we observe Halloween.  Many other Russians have nothing to do with this holiday.”

The girls finish their breakfasts quickly and put on their fur coats while Ivan warms up the Ford.  Lyuba is still shaking her head and fretting as they join Ivan in the car, while Irina keeps insisting there’s nothing immodest about her costume.  It covers everything vital, and isn’t nearly as revealing as Katya’s witch costume.  When Ivan asks just what costume Irina is referring to, she provides a basic description which results in even more parental shrieking and lamenting.


At church in St. Paul, everyone turns to stare at Irina.  She ignores all the stares and whispers as she ties a bright red lace veil over her hair, making sure to leave the peacock feathers alone.

“I think you look fabulous,” Darya whispers, slipping her arm around her little sister. “It was mighty brave to come to church in costume.  Why wear a nice costume for only a few hours at the end of the day when you can wear it all day long?”

“If you were a co-ed, we’d invite you to our party tonight,” Anzhelika says, smiling. “Are those purple pearl earrings real?”

“They sure are,” Irina says proudly. “I just did them last night, all by myself.”

“You’re the first and only person I know to have double-pierced ears,” Darya says. “I must say, it’ll go really well with your style.  Why be one of a million when you can be one in a million?”

Ivan hangs his head in mortification.  At times like these, he feels so much older than merely fifty.  His own children’s generation’s sensibilities get further and further removed from his own every day, and the chasm is likely to be even more pronounced and obscene by the time Tamara is a young adult.


Over Valeriya’s objections, Igor and Ilya have accepted the invitation to a Halloween party in University Heights instead of attending something closer to home.  This time it’s not about being a whole other borough away, but being out late on a Sunday night.  Valeriya always worries they’ll either oversleep and be late to class, or not get enough sleep and suffer for it through the rest of the day.

She offered to host a small, intimate party in her home, but Igor and Ilya wanted to be with all their new friends more.  Most of these new friends are native-born Americans of non-Russian ancestry, and probably wouldn’t enjoy hearing a foreign language being babbled in the background, nor all the signs of an unfamiliar culture, like ikons and reproductions of Fabergé eggs.

Igor and Ilya most certainly wouldn’t enjoy it very much if they went to a house where the older folks merrily carried on as though they were merely in some far-flung Italian or Chinese colony.  Their cousins who were also invited to the party are more American than Russian, and wouldn’t consider a home party either.

Vintage Halloween Postcards (1)

“Which car do you want, the Ford or the Buick?” Ilya asks as he adjusts his pirate hat. “Mila’s used to being picked up in the Buick, but I could accept the Ford for one night.”

“You’re lucky the girl you like likes you back,” Igor grumbles. “Even if I ask Violetta out, she won’t say yes.  She keeps insisting she’s meant to be a spinster.  I must be a stupid sap for thinking she likes me as more than just a friend.  A girl who really liked me wouldn’t treat me like nothing but a male friend.”

“Maybe she’s shy and is waiting for the right moment to confess her interest.  You’ll never know for sure till you ask her out and declare your intentions.  Girls aren’t trained to make the first move.  Even radicals like Tädi Kati waited to be asked out.”


Igor pushes his tassel out of his eyes and tosses his sword into the backseat of the Ford.  Though he most loves artists from the modern era, he decided to dress like a Renaissance man out of respect for the artists who ushered in so many of the modern developments he takes for granted, like the popularity of non-religious subjects, oil painting, proportion, chiaroscuro, and the application of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

Since it would be ludicrous to take a palette, brushes, and paints all the way to the Bronx and back for just a Halloween party, Igor opted for a sword as a prop.  It’s a genuine antique shashka Mr. Golitsyn inherited from his paternal grandfather, who served as an officer in the Russian Caucasian Corps long ago and worlds apart.


“You don’t have to be welded to the first and only girl you’ve liked so far,” Ilya says as Igor starts driving. “Why should you be denied the fun stuff just because your first crush isn’t interested?  Maybe she’s the type to not care or notice you in that way until she sees you with another woman.”

“But I don’t have a crush on anyone else, only Violetta.”

“The semester’s only about half over.  You might notice someone you like even better, and you won’t think about Violetta ever again.”

Igor takes Ilya’s directions up to Hamilton Heights, and waits in the car drumming his fingers against the wheel while Ilya fetches Milada.  Of course, Milada just had to dress as a female pirate to match Ilya’s costume.  He doesn’t object when they get into the backseat to cuddle, and continues driving over to Carnegie Hill to pick up Luiza.


Igor burns with jealousy when he enters the Eristovs’ humble house, knowing Ilya and Milada will definitely use this alone time to do more than just cuddle.  It’s so unfair his own younger brother beat him to getting a girlfriend and learning how to kiss.  If he didn’t have such old-fashioned parents, he might not’ve grown up with the expectation of only seriously dating towards marriage at no younger than sixteen, and only having physical contact with women he feels very strongly about and envisions marrying.

“Would you like to step inside for a little bit?” Matryona asks. “You’re always welcome in our home, even if your mother has never been as close to me as she is to my younger sisters.  Since you and Luiza are at the same university now, you really should drop by every so often so we can get to know you better.  Ilya’s welcome too, of course.”


“We really should leave right away, so we can get to the party on time,” Luiza says, smoothing down her Egyptian skirt. “It takes at least thirty minutes to drive to the Bronx.”

“Can I come too?” seventeen-year-old Susanna begs. “I’m old enough to pass for a real co-ed, and my friends’ party probably won’t be nearly as exciting as the NYU party.”

Matryona fixes her middle child with a firm but patient look. “You’re not going to any university party when you’re still in high school.  Next year you’ll be able to attend all the university parties you want, though you should remember that’s not why we’re sending you and Luiza to school.  Modern women need diplomas and higher education.  Women in my day didn’t use university as an excuse to hop off to parties and meet young men all the time.”


“Why do some women only go to university to find husbands?” thirteen-year-old Viktor asks. “I guess it’s nice if you meet your future spouse there, but it’s not the reason to go to university.  If you only care about dating, you could just work and meet people in the park or something.”

“Spoken like a true young man from a family of mostly women.  You might think much differently if there were more men and boys in our family.” Matryona turns back to Luiza. “Speaking of, you’re not to use this party as an excuse to meet men.  If you find your next date there, that should just be a coincidence, not something you actively sought out.”

Luiza nods to indicate she heard and understood, though she doesn’t say anything.  As soon as she heads out the door with Igor, she pulls off her golden sweater and stuffs it into the golden purse attached to her waist.


“I’m not covering my arms up to the elbow just because my parents think it’s indecent to wear shoulder straps at a mixed party.  There’s no point in dressing like an Ancient Egyptian woman if I’m just going to wear some stupid sweater hiding the top part of my gown.”

Igor averts his eyes when he catches Ilya and Milada kissing in the backseat, pressed up against one another for dear life and running their hands through one another’s hair.  Luiza ignores them and gets into the passenger seat, where she pulls off her golden flats and exchanges them for a pair of golden sandals in her purse.

“I hope you’re not too cold,” Igor says. “Even a nice Halloween costume shouldn’t come before dressing warmly.”

“I’ll be fine.  A little chill is my price to pay for fashion.”


Ilya pulls away from Milada when Igor starts the car. “When did you get back?  I didn’t notice you getting into the car or approaching.”

“That’s because you were glued to your girlfriend.” Igor lays on the horn at a bicyclist getting too close to the car. “And here I thought you were too shy to do that with an audience.”

“I didn’t want any audience!  You should’ve warned us you were coming, so we could sit back up and pretend we weren’t doing anything!”

“Who are you kidding, little brother?  We all knew what you were going to do the moment I left the car.  Are you really still only on first base?”

Milada turns beet red. “It’s no one’s business, but we’ve never done anything more than kiss and hold hands.”

“Since when am I your little brother?” Ilya demands. “You’ve never called me that before.”

“You’re eleven months younger than I am,” Igor reminds him. “That makes you my little brother, Irish twin or not.”

“Are you jealous of me because I have a girlfriend and you don’t?  Nothing’s been stopping you from asking anyone out in the last two months.  You can ask out someone at the party.  Don’t be so stuck on one woman you never consider anyone else.”

“Look at yourself!  I just caught you stuck to the only girl you’ve ever liked!”

Milada turns ever redder and hides her face in her hands.


“It’s not my problem if you’re too afraid to ask out the woman you have a crush on,” Ilya says, putting his arm around Milada. “Be a man and ask her out.  The worst that can happen is she’ll say no and your pride will be wounded for a little while.  There are other fish in the sea if Violetta doesn’t fancy you.”

“I never limit myself,” Luiza chimes in. “I’m a co-ed, not an old married woman with five kids.  I like having fun with lots of different fellows, so long as they’re respectable and don’t try to move too fast too soon.  I’ve probably gone out with about thirty different guys in the last two years.”

“You’ve had that many boyfriends?” Igor sputters, clutching the wheel to avoid swerving onto the sidewalk. “I never suspected you were that type.”


“Dates, not beaux.  There were plenty of guys I only went out with once and didn’t like enough to continue seeing.  I’ve had about five fellows I went steady with for a few months, but those weren’t serious relationships, just steady dates to pass some time with.  There’s nothing the matter with playing the field and trying out different options before committing to one person for the rest of your life.  Certainly I don’t intend to be some thirty-five-year-old bride like my mother and have kids older than usual, but I don’t intend to marry fresh out of university either.  I think twenty-five’s a good age for marrying, not too old and not too young.”

“Twenty-five?” Igor asks. “But that’s so old to be married.  My father was only twenty-five because he had to chase my mother for so long before she finally said yes.  Had she married him the first time he asked, he only would’ve been eighteen.  I don’t see the point in delaying marriage if you’re in a serious relationship.  You won’t suddenly feel differently once you’re twenty-five if you’ve already loved that person for a really long time.”

“That’s for people who’ve been going steady since before university, or met the first year.  When you don’t have any special commitments, there’s no reason to rush into marriage just because all your friends are doing it.”


Igor grits his teeth as Luiza and Ilya continue lecturing him on the importance of looking around for dates and not feeling bound to his first crush, all the way into the Bronx.  He’s so annoyed and distracted he almost forgets his sword, and has to run back to the car to retrieve it after they’ve already started walking to the campus center.

“There’s your chance, Casanova,” Luiza whispers as they enter the large room reserved for the party. “If you don’t ask her out soon, someone else will, and I guarantee you won’t like that very much.”

Violetta is seated near the back of the room, dressed in a long black dress with a spider web patterned over the skirt.  She’s showing a bit more collarbone than usual, showcasing a necklace with a large spiderweb and spider centerpiece and other, much smaller spiders and their webs attached to the sides of the chain.  Violetta’s earrings are also spiders.  Her shoes are flats as always, red with spiders in place of her usual flowers or bows.  Black silk rosebuds are clipped all over her hair to complete the spider queen look.


“It’s nice to see you again,” Igor says, smiling. “I didn’t realize you were such an arachnophile.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, since you only properly met me eight days ago.”

Igor’s heart sinks. “I only said that because my mother loves spiders too.  She has a spider necklace and a spiderweb jewelry box.  I bet she’d like you if you ever met.  Is there a particular reason you like spiders, or is this just another costume?”

“I like the Indian symbolism behind it.  Spiders are associated with some Hindu concept called Maya, which means ‘illusion.’  It translates to the deceptive, constantly changing nature of appearances.  Not everything is always as it seems.  I also like how it represents the weaving of our own destiny.” Violetta touches the scabbard. “Is that a real sword in there, or just a replica?”


“It’s no phony.” Igor stands back and draws the sword, making sure to hold it in the air with the blade away from himself. “My Dvoyurodniy Dedushka Grisha got it from his dedushka.  It doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of my costume, but we didn’t have any Renaissance swords lying about.  My brother-in-law Dmitriy gets a real sword, since he’s a Naval ensign.  He got to cut his wedding cake with his sword, and he and my sister Katya walked underneath an arch of swords twice at their wedding.  I wish my parents had let me and Ilyushka enlist underage.  We could’ve been in the Navy too, since they were still fighting when the Army was finished.”

“I can’t imagine anyone so young in uniform.  You were right to let your big brother do all the fighting for you.”


Igor puts his sword back. “I would’ve fought with the best of them if I’d snuck away to enlist.  All real men had to fight, and I hated being just a little too young.  My friends Edik and Marik Vishinskiy joined the Navy as soon as they graduated, and they were so sore when the war ended almost as soon as they enlisted.  They never got to see any action, and now they’re stuck in the service for two more years.”

“Aren’t those Lyuda and Raya Vishinskaya’s younger brothers?  Lyuda and Raya worked at my dedushka’s church camp during the war.”

“Those are the same ones.  Their brother Andrey’s my brother-in-law now.  I was angry at him for not serving, but I’ve forgiven him since he’s so good to my sister Dasha.” Igor looks around the room. “Would you like to play a party game with me?  How about bobbing for apples?”

Violetta shakes her head. “I’d prefer not to play that game.”

“Then how about a fortune cake or walnut boats?  Or maybe you like ghost stories, fortune-telling, and the Ouija board more.”

“I only came here because my friends forced me.  I wouldn’t have come if it were my own decision.  But don’t let me keep you from having fun.  I’m sure a nice, good-looking guy like you can find some other women to play party games with.”

Igor puts on his best poker face and wades into the crowd in search of a few co-eds to pass some time with.


Everyone stops to stare at Irina as she walks into the school auditorium with her new friend Rhonwen, who’s dressed in a blue Gilded Age bathing suit.  Just as Irina suspected, all the other students are dressed in boring, predictable costumes, like nurses, witches, clowns, ghosts, pumpkins, bats, movie monsters, sailors, American Indians, and royalty.  Even the girls dressed as Gypsies have conservative hemlines and necklines, which defeats the whole purpose of such an exotic, alluring costume.  The only slightly out of the ordinary costumes besides Irina’s are from her acquaintances Nerissa and Clarinda, who are dressed as Chinese girls, and two boys on the football team in blackface.


“I can’t believe how much skin she’s showing,” a cheerleader dressed as a bat mutters loudly enough for Irina to hear. “I wouldn’t expect anything else from someone with eight siblings.  Her parents must be like drunken rabbits.”

Irina rushes at the girl and punches her as hard as she can in the face.  Despite her fragile start, Irina has so far grown to a respectable height of 5’5 and stands over just about all of the other girls in her school.  She can’t punch this girl square in the eye as she did to Mr. Purcell, but getting her anywhere on her face is good enough.

“My parents aren’t drunken rabbits, you bitch,” she snarls. “Your parents probably do that just as much, only they don’t have nine children as evidence.”

Irina takes Rhonwen’s arm and goes to the other side of the auditorium for some punch, without sticking around to defend her family any further to this stranger.  After she pours a cup of punch to the very top, she tucks her hair behind her ears and savors the shocked reactions of everyone around her.


“Those are all real earrings!” a girl dressed as a witch shrieks. “Only fallen women have real earrings!  You even have four of them!”

“Yes I do, and I damn well love all of them.  I don’t know how you can bear to wear those silly fake clip-ons.  The real thing is so much prettier.”

“You’re supposed to let boys pour your punch,” a girl in a fairy costume says. “You’ll never marry if you keep acting too proud for our sex.  Men would have no reason to care about us and propose marriage if we did everything for ourselves and didn’t need any help and protection.”

“My parents raised me to be a real person, not a delicate glass flower.” Irina reaches into the huge communal bowl of pigs in a blanket and stuffs an overflowing handful into her mouth. “Why would I want a fellow who treats me like an idiot who can barely function on her own?  I’ve got two perfectly good hands, and God gave me a brain so I could use it.”

“But you’re a girl!  You’re barely supposed to use your brain!  If you use your brain too much, you’ll become dangerously ill, and will make yourself a spinster without even trying.”


“Why do you think we shouldn’t use our brains?” Rhonwen asks. “It’s stupid to let men get all the credit.  Your brain will still be there when your beauty has gone to pieces.”

“Why are you at this party?” a boy in an old-fashioned golfing outfit asks. “No one at this school likes you.”

“I wasn’t aware this party was only for popular students with at least thirty best friends and shallow life goals.” Rhonwen reaches into the bowl of pigs in a blanket.

“You’ve both already eaten too much,” a girl in a Pilgrim dress says. “You don’t want to get fat.”

“I’m not fat, I’m curvy.” Irina helps herself to the largest soft pretzel and slathers it in hot mustard. “It’s really too bad you’ll never have a body like mine, since you’re too busy skimping on your food in the hopes of landing some shallow excuse of a man.”

“You haven’t been at this school for an entire semester yet,” a boy dressed as a whiteface clown scoffs. “You can’t just come in here and act like you’re a wanted guest.”

“I go to this school now, like it or not.  It’s too bad if you can’t accept the fact that not everyone in your life can be someone you’ve known since birth.” Irina knocks over his cup of root beer. “Maybe at least some of you will learn there are many different ways to live.”


Igor has spent the night making the rounds of the various Halloween games and amusements—bobbing for apples, the Ouija board, a miniature haunted house, walnut boats, five different types of fortune-telling, dart-throwing, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, musical chairs, a cakewalk, ghost stories, and Twenty Questions.  Violetta has continued sitting in her chair, not participating in any of the games or even coming to listen to some ghost stories and get her fortune told.  She almost appears like part of the furniture, but for the fact that she moves every so often.

Throughout the party, some of her friends, and some unknowns, have come over to talk to her and bring her snacks, but she always begs off actively participating in the party.  Igor has been watching her out of the corner of his eye, and almost thinks he sees a wistful look in her deep brown eyes.  If only he knew just why her mind has convinced her she can’t have normal co-ed fun.


“Care for a slice of fortune cake?” A chemistry major in a toreador costume extends a large platter to Igor. “There’s a ribbon attached to each charm, so you’ll know how big to make your slice.”

“I’d never pass up cake.” Igor rubs his scabbard. “Can I use my sword to cut it?”

“I suppose, so long as you know what you’re doing and don’t ruin the cake or hurt anyone.”

Igor draws his sword and sinks it into the cake, making sure to only cut a slice containing one ribbon.  It’s not a very big slice, but he’s already gotten more than enough food to tide himself over.  At home, where he doesn’t have to share with over fifty other people, he’ll be at liberty to cut a much larger slice of cake.

“Would you like me to cut you a slice too?” he asks Violetta. “Surely not everything at this party is forbidden to you.”

“That’s not why I haven’t been participating, but I can have cake.” Violetta reaches for the sword. “May I cut my own slice?”

“Do you know how to use a sword?”

“It’s probably not that hard.  A sword is just a really big knife.”

“Maybe in theory, but it has a lot of differences from a knife.  Would you let me help you with cutting?”

“Only if I can put my hand on the handle instead of over yours.  Then it wouldn’t really be me cutting.”


Igor puts the sword over his arm and lets Violetta take it.  After she clasps her hand around the handle, Igor places his hand over hers.  An electrical jolt goes through his entire being as he has physical contact with her for the very first time.  She has such soft skin, an artist’s hand just like Igor expected.  He’s enjoying the sensation so much, he almost forgets he has to remove his hand from hers after the cake is cut and on Violetta’s plate.

Since there are so many people at this party, about five different sets of charms have been baked into the cake.  Igor feels slightly jilted knowing repeats are guaranteed.  He’s well aware of how most fortune-telling is rather unscientific and prone to wishful thinking and outright errors, but if there were only one set of charms, he could at least pretend the fortune were unique to himself.  After all, Darya, Andrey, Dmitriy, and Katya had their romantic fortunes successfully told through this Halloween tradition.


“Aren’t you going to pull our your charm, Gorik?” Ilya asks. “You went to that big deal of cutting the cake with your sword; you might as well enjoy the cake.”

Igor yanks on the orange ribbon and finds a lamp post. “I can already tell this isn’t some kind of romantic fortune.”

A basketball player dressed like Mickey Mouse takes out a list with the meanings of each charm.  The other charms include rings, bells, wishing wells, highchairs, rocking chairs, hearts, shamrocks, flowers, angels, ship wheels, moneybags, telephones, claddaghs, buttons, and oyster shells with pearls.  Igor waits till near the end of the list to find out the lamp post signifies a bright future.

“That’s boring,” he complains. “You at least got a heart and a shamrock.”

“What about mine?” Luiza asks. “A rocking chair only signifies I’ve got a long life.  That’s not exactly a jaw-dropping fortune.  I expect to live a long life.”


Violetta sets her charm back on her empty plate and puts it on the table behind her. “I’d better start walking to the subway so I’ll be home before midnight.  Luiza, I’ll see you tomorrow in class.”

Igor thinks of drawing his sword and blocking her path, then reconsiders in case Violetta might not find it funny. “There’s room for one more in my car.  I don’t want you walking by yourself to the subway at this hour, and then travelling all the way home alone.  This isn’t a short trip across one neighborhood.”

“Yes, you should go with us,” Luiza says. “We can have a nice conversation during the drive.  You’re a lot more interesting than the other first-year students I’ve met so far.”

“What was your fortune?” Milada asks. “You can take it home as a souvenir.  No one said we had to give them back.”

Violetta lifts it off her plate. “A fleur de lis, a new beginning or rebirth.  Tell me something I don’t know.  I’m already in my first semester of university.”

“You don’t have to take it so literally.  Maybe it’s a different kind of rebirth, the kind you don’t realize just yet.”

Violetta stuffs her charm in her black sequin clutch. “I wish I could believe that.”


“Do you know about the other ways of telling your fortune on Halloween?” Luiza asks. “If you walk out the door backwards, pick some grass, and put it under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband.  You can also make a wish when you eat a dry crust of bread at night.  This is when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, so it’s easier to tell fortunes and dream of the future.”

“My only future is as a spinster, though it’s really swell of you to try to convince me I have a husband out there somewhere.”

“Maybe you really don’t, but maybe you do.  If you’re serious about wanting to enjoy your time as a co-ed, you should put yourself out there more and have fun at these parties.  A new love could be out there waiting right under your nose, and you’d never know it unless you do more than sit in a chair drinking punch and eating pretzels.”