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"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Women in books - "The Waverunner" by Alexander Grin, translated by Maria K.

Some encounters carry with them such strong feeling of un-reality, that we treat them as impossible, even if they did actually happen. Alexander Grin takes this concept and nudges it even further by placing ordinary people into extraordinary situations or impossible people into commonplace surroundings. Below is an example of just such a meeting between the protagonist of the novel The Waverunner Thomas Garvey and a woman who, by all rights, should not exist.

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I put the oars through the rowlocks but continued sitting there with a kind of involuntary pointless expectation. Suddenly the deck was filled with exclamations, shouts, arguments and noise – so sudden and loud that I couldn’t figure out what the matter was. Finally I heard a demanding female voice that said sharply and coldly, “It is my business, Captain Gez! It ought to be sufficient that this is what I want!”

Everything I heard after that was filled with incredulity and rage. Gez shouted, “Hey, you, in the boat! Come and get her!” He added, addressing someone, “I don’t know where he was hiding her!”

He addressed me again and again – not mentioning my name, “Hey, you in the boat!” I didn’t honor him with an answer.

“Tell him yourself, dammit!” Gez yelled.

“Garvey!” a fresh and seemingly familiar voice of an unknown woman called out, “Take the boat to the ladder, it will be lowered right away. I am coming with you.”
Completely puzzled, I judged by the voice that she couldn’t have been a part of Gez’s party. I didn’t hesitate, as one could only prefer a boat to the safety of a ship under intolerable, possibly life-threatening circumstances. The ladder clanged; it slid down and touched the water surface. I moved the boat closer and grabbed the bottom of the ladder, looking up till my eyes hurt but still not being able to see anyone.

“Take your girlfriend!” Gez said, “I see you are a prankster.”

“I’ll be damned if I know how he managed this!” Synchright exclaimed.

I couldn’t hear any footsteps. A slender figure wrapped in a cape appeared at the bottom of the ladder, waived her hand and hopped into the boat in one precise movement. The boat was lit up better than the deck of the ship. Glancing at me, the woman shifted her hands under the cape that was hiding her and sat down on a bench next to mine. I couldn’t see her face, hidden by the lace trim of the hood, except her glittering black eyes. She turned away, looking at the shop. I was still holding onto the ladder.

“How did this happen?” I said, completely lost in amazement.

“He's got some nerve!” Gez said from above, “Go wherever you want and I sincerely wish you to feed the sharks!”

“Murderer!” I shouted back, “You will answer for this double outrage! I wish you a bullet through the head as soon as possible!”

“He will get a bullet,” the unknown woman said calmly, almost absentmindedly, and I jumped. Her appearance was beginning to torment me – especially her firm carefree gaze.

“Let us away from the ship!” she said suddenly and turned to me, “Push away with an oar.”

I pushed away and we were picked up by a wave. A shower of jokes flew at us from the deck. They were too shallow to be repeated here. The voices and the ship’s lights moved away. I rowed automatically, as the ship’s sails went up and took it away. Soon its lights diminished, looking like a row of sparks.

Wind blew at my back. By my calculations dawn was a couple of hours away. Glancing at the luminous face of my watch I saw that I was right – it was five minutes to four. Mild waves presented no danger. I hoped that this adventure would end well, because the earlier conversations on The Waverunner told me that this part of the ocean between Gariba and the peninsula was fairly well-traveled. Most of all, however, I was concerned with the question, who was in the boat with me this wild night.

In the meantime, I could see a bit more clearly. The waves glistened like dark glass. I was just about to address her with an entire series of natural and lawful questions, when the woman said, “How do you feel now, Garvey?”

“Do you know me?"

“I know your name and I shall tell you mine – Frasie Grant.”

“I should be the one asking you,” I said, amazed again by her calm tone, “yes, asking you how you feel after your fearless act landing you in this damn boat in the middle of the ocean. I was shocked; now I am astonished as well. I never saw you on the ship. Might I assume that you were being held against your will?”

“Against my will?!” she said, laughing quietly and mischievously, “Oh, no, no! Nobody could ever hold me anywhere against my will, wherever it might be. Haven’t you heard what they shouted at you from the deck? They think you are a cunning prankster who hid me in the hold or somewhere else, and that I didn’t want to abandon you.”

“I cannot force you to tell me anything about yourself. You will tell me when you wish to do so.”

“Oh, that is unavoidable, Garvey. But let us wait. Alright?”

Assuming that she was anxious, although in amazing control of herself, I offered her a little wine I had in one of my bags to calm her down.

“No,” she said, “I do not need it. But you, of course, want to see who is this uninvited stranger sitting here with you. There is a lantern here.”

She leaned back and pulled a lantern with a candle inside from a small cubbyhole. I was rarely as anxious as at that moment when I handed her the matches and waited for the light.

While she was setting up the lantern, I saw a delicate hand and the metal grate of the lantern, coming alive from inside. Shadows fluttered and ran across the boat. Then Frasie Grant closed the lantern, placed it between us and threw off her cape. I shall never forget her – the way I saw her at that moment.

There was a glow around her that faded away among the waves. Her regular, almost round face with a beautiful gentle smile was filled with charming nervous movement, expressing at the moment that she was amused by my growing astonishment. But there was a motionless point in her black eyes; those eyes, upon a closer look, bore an impression of ominous and tiresome persistence, inexplicable strain and silence – more so than the silence of her lips. Pearl combs glittered in her raven hair. The gown of ivory lace, leaving open her delicate shoulders that were as flawlessly white as her face, folded around her form like a broad overturned fan, from under which peeked a small foot in a gilded shoe. She sat with her arms spread, her hands resting on the deck of the stern, leaning toward me slightly as if wanting to give me a better look of her sudden beauty. It seemed that this wondrous figure was sitting not in the midst of the dangerous ocean night, but in a distant nook of a palace, having gotten tired from music and crowds.

I gazed, surprised that I was not looking for an explanation. Everything moved and changed inside me, and while my feelings were appropriate for my actions, their intensity overcame my thoughts. I heard the beating of the heart in my chest, neck and temples; it beat faster and softer, faster and softer. I was suddenly overcome by fear; it pulled at me and vanished.

“Do not be afraid,” she said. Her voice changed, I recognized it and remembered when I heard it, “I shall leave you, but listen to what I say. At dawn, go south and row as quickly as you can. At sunrise you will meet a sail ship, and it will take pick you up. The ship is sailing to Gel-Gyu and we shall meet again, when you get there. Nobody must know that I was with you – except for her, who has yet to come to you. You want to see Biche Saniel very much and you will see her, but remember that you mustn’t tell her about me. I was with you, so that you wouldn’t be frightened and lonely.”

“The night is dark,” I said, moving my eyes with difficulty as I was getting tired of gazing, “There are waves, nothing but waves all around!”

She rose and placed a hand on my head. It glowed in the light like marble.

“Out there,” the answer came quietly, “there are only waves for me, and there is an island among them; it glows brighter and further away. I am in a rush, I must hurry; I shall see it at dawn. Farewell! Are you still making your wreath? Are the flowers still bright? Are you lonely on this dark road?”

“What can I tell you?” I replied, “You are here, and this is my answer. Where is the island you speak of? Why are you alone? What threatens you? What protects you?”

“Oh,” she said sadly, “do not dwell upon the darkness. I obey myself and I know what I want. But I cannot speak of it.”

The flame from the candle shone brightly; it’s glow was so bright, that I had to look away. I saw black fins crossing the water like buoys; their predatory movement around the boat, their restless shuttling to and fro smelled of danger.

“Who is that?” I said, “Who are these monsters around us?”

“Do not mind them and do not fear for me,” she replied, “Whoever they might be in their greedy hopes, they cannot touch or harm me anymore.”

I looked up as she said that.

“Frasie Grant!” I shouted with despair, because sorrow came over me, “Come back!..”

She stood on water not far away to the right and was slowly carried away by the waves. She was moving away, half-turned toward me with her hand raised, peering as if walking away from the bed of someone asleep and not wishing to wake him up by a careless movement. Seeing that I was watching her, she nodded and smiled.

I could barely see as she turned and ran swiftly and lightly, as if she was running across an enormous dark ballroom.

Right away, the devilish fins of the sharks or some other nerve-shattering creatures, that looked like cuts made by a black blade, turned in the same direction, where Frasie Grant – the waverunner – vanished, and gliding away in abrupt tugs, disappeared as well.

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