From: ‘Mina Bayless’
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2011 7:22 AM
To: ‘Elle Wakefield’
Good morning to you! Thanks for sending the “bedtime story.” I love how Carver can create so much out of so few words. There is one line in there that gets me every time; the one where she says “Suppose. Just suppose. It doesn’t hurt to suppose.” All the paradoxes wrapped up in that sentence. . .
Breakfast at the moment: an apple from the hostel’s “kitchenette.” M. Cassel emailed me at some bizarre time last night to say that Anders (the photog) would be meeting me in Moscow, at Leningradsky station & that we could transfer onto a line that will take us to Irkutsk. It takes about 8 hours from here on a regular train so I’ll take one later in the evening. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep. The express is a little more expensive & I have to go to the Embassy today to fill out paperwork.
Calls to make too: Lora, Drew & Brady to give them the news. That. Will. Be. Interesting. One to M. himself for thanks & Anders’ cell. He’s offered to wire any sort of money if I need it. Dad used to say Atelier found an excuse to write off anything as an expense. I wonder what any money he sends me will be classified under. “Medical expenses?” “Ongoing educational expense related to work?” “Travel?” Terrible thought.
Going to grab a nap & a shower before I checkout.
Partial Death Certificate for Jesse Quinn Harker
Manner of Death: ACCIDENT
Was case referred to coroner or medical examiner? NO
Cause of Death
Death was caused by: UNINTENTIONAL INJURIES
Due to or as a consequence of: FROM BEING MAULED
Due to or as a consequence of: ATTACK BY A WILD ANIMAL
Personal Notes of Mina Bayless
Time & its limits. Checkout at this time, get on this train, meet person at this time, call between now & then but don’t forget to factor in the time zones. Rules to follow, so much to do & I chase the tick of the seconds, fearful of all the decisions left unmade.
What would I say to you if I even could? As usual, I’d probably tell you something, anything to keep your attention. You always seemed to be moving forward, moving away, on to the next assignment. You could never stay. So here’s something.
My train didn’t leave until 10 pm. A day to fill after I checked out. I dragged my two bags down Nevsky Prospekt & arrived at the nearby cafe. “Brunch” became an hour & a half event of sending emails, making calls & using the space as my personal office while pretending not to do so. Mattias was kind, solicitous when I called. He told me to stop being so formal & that the others at Atelier are willing to help however they can. I know you & M. Cassel insulted each other on a regular basis, but he answered all of my questions with sincerity & said vaguely poetic things about your friendship. Mon frere, he repeats, ton pere, mon frere. After awhile, the girl behind the counter came over. The only thing I understood was her firm request to leave.
I spent hours at the Embassy, verifying you were you with the copies of your passport & ID card you left me. Did you always leave these with me because I was the overseas daughter or because I was the only one who consistently spoke to you? Lora, Drew or Brady could have all done this too; they’re no less capable than me. Whenever we got together you would always say, “I missed this. I’ve missed our conversations.” What did you say to them?
Copies of death certificates & other forms tucked away in the folder with my most important thesis drafts. If I lose any of it, I won’t have much of anything going for me then, huh? My contact’s name is Janice & her number goes straight into my phone. She told me that your photos of the New Mexico reservations were an inspiration to her. She described in detail the potter in San Ildefonso, the old woman with the cataracts & the cross tattooed on her throat. I said thank you. It was the wrong thing to say.
After I left, I sat bundled up on a bench near the Neva & felt the cold air coming off of the water. I tried to see the city the way you would, looking for “evidence of man’s parasitic nature.” You might have leaned over the concrete barriers to take pictures of trash floating on the water. Or maybe you would have set your focus on the tide mark of debris & cigarette butts left in the gutter. A bird dead on a sidewalk under a sunset choked with smog. Every picture was one more gesture to your failing hope in mankind.
Got to Moskovsky station around 7pm. I sat inside the depot to stay warm & watched a man playing the violin for change. He was wearing peasant-style clothes & played frenetically. A young girl, his daughter I later found out, sat on a rail near the case. I took a bench that wasn’t too close but where I could still watch them. I was trying to compare his songs to the various things I’d heard Elle play back in Uppsala & I must have drifted off because a touch woke me before I fell over.
The little girl stood in front of me. Under her black wool coat she wore a print dress, dun-colored with small bright bouquets of flowers. She had thick white stockings pulled high and shiny black shoes: someone’s idea of dress-up. Her hair was the same color as her stockings & small gold posts in her ears. She was six or seven; I wondered if they had pierced her ears as a baby. She murmured something at me. I smiled and asked her if she was hungry in three different languages (none of them Russian unfortunately). She only shook her head & repeated what she had said. I saw her father coming over. He was a smiling bear of a man, shining grey eyes and dark hair that bristled on his head & from his beard. I asked him my three questions as well. This would have been no problem for you. Your Russian would have been passable, but your charm would have won them over, maybe even persuaded them to pose for a few frames.
“No, no,” he said in English, “she wants to tell your fortune.” I asked if they were gypsies, at which he laughed. A lot. “No, no,” he said again, ”But you have found out our game.” His name is Anatoly Vasilievich & he works for a bank, something to do with loans. Playing in the train station is his special game with his daughter Marya, as sort of real-life pretend. I looked closer & saw that his shirt was ancient, but well-cared for. The color faded in the folds. We walked back to the case & I paid for a fortune. The girl looked into my face seriously & lilted something at me. Anatoly translated, “She says fortune sparkles around you. Just hold out your hand.”
We talked for a little while, a weird conversation hinging on Marya. I asked her small questions about school, about her friends & Anatoly translated, inserting small comments. She told me the name of her best friends (one real, one imaginary), what the neighborhood stray does when it’s asleep (twitches after dream mice), and how she’s learning ballet soon. Then they asked me questions. I told them that I’m a student, that I wasn’t here to study but “to see a sick relative In Moscow.” Which caused Anatoly to ask if I’m traveling alone & I admit yes.
He looked very serious, “There is no one else that could come?” I told him a cousin was meeting me in Moscow but until then. . . He looked so concerned the lie stings. Never reveal yourself to a stranger, yet you could make a lie & the truth come off equally well. He nodded & excused himself to start playing again. Marya stayed with me & we somehow found a way to play games without a single word between us. Anatoly played & drew a few generous listeners. The clink of change on cloth. He seemed to only hear what he plays, as if he were alone at practice.
Sometime after eight, Anatoly’s wife arrived. She looked like a woman who only just tolerates these gypsy games & as she came closer & saw me with Marya, she looked more fierce. Anatoly’s efforts to introduce me to “Galina Nikolaevna” did not help; it created a stiff layer of formality over the tension. I moved my bags over to another bench while husband & wife had a “discussion” through quick almost-whispers. Marya trailed behind me, trying to tell me something that I couldn’t understand. I told her goodbye three different ways & her mother snatched her away, throwing the words “Walk home!” behind her as she left.
Anatoly gave me another of his huge toothy smiles. I asked him if he needed to go. Apparently he felt so badly that I was traveling alone & taking such a late train, he decided he should stay just in case. I kept telling him that I’ll be fine, I swear up & down that he doesn’t need to stay. “You almost fell over earlier,” he said, “I saw. How will you stay awake until 10?” So we talked. He tells me about meeting Galina Nikolaevna at university, where he learned English. She studied poetry & still writes pages & pages of verse at home. He had played the violin since he was very young & hoped to play in “grand orchestras” (his words). But “real life” had lead him to business & now he played for the “grand masses.”
He stayed until I got on the train a little before 10. He was happy to talk despite what little response I gave, telling me stories about the people he saw in the station or funny confusions with the people he worked with. At some point, when I realized he wouldn’t go, I broke your rule & told him why I was here. That Moscow was only one stop on the way to Siberia to claim you. I don’t think much interesting happened after that. But I do know that when I got on the train, he called to me in Russian, said something to me as if I was his kin. He looked hopeful as he held up his hand to say goodbye.