ULA KLEIN - RUSSIAN FORMALISM
Ula Klein is a professor of English literature and women's and gender studies at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, TX. She has been writing fiction since a young age, and she has recently completed a novel. She has published a short story entitled "The Yellow Wallpaper" at In-flight Magazine and various non-fiction pieces in the online magazine Revolvist. She has also published scholarly articles on representations of eighteenth-century female cross-dressers in British literature.
He watched her from behind, running on the treadmill. Her long hair was tied in a school girl’s braid down the length of her spine. It bobbed back and forth in a snaking shape as she pushed herself further and further on the winding tape.
In the privacy of her own bedroom, she stepped out of her clothing, sweaty. She pulled the tight, second-skin jog-bra off her body. She barely slithered out of it, breathing hard again once she managed to tear away the Lycra from her chest. She stopped for a moment to cup her breasts in her hands and massage them. Those Walmart bras. Made so tight.
She was Russian, he knew it. She had their determination as she pumped the life out of the treadmill. Maybe she had trained for the Olympics back in the motherland. Ice skating? No, she was muscular and sinewy. Her calves were flat and stretched and her ankles far from slim. Her shoulders were square. No, she wasn’t delicate enough for a Russian ice skater. Something else.
Then there was the hair. They prized their hair, even if it was thick and wiry, as long as it was long. Long like a little girl’s. He had heard her speaking with an older woman. The Russian flowed out of their mouths like the burble of water in a stream pushing over rocks. It was like wind in the leaves. All he had ever learned of Russian was from a foreign exchange boy at school: suka, dupa, huy s tebya. Curses. They had giggled together in the boys’ locker room, shoving these words at imaginary girls or their fellow hockey teammates. He tried to think of Russia, but only managed to conjure up an image of Siberian tundra: wild, flat, barren.
Now she slipped off her shorts and socks in one swift movement, throwing them down on the ground at her feet. Finally her underwear, soaked from the workout. She smiled at the breeze she felt between her legs. Release from fabric and heat. She stood naked in the dim light of forty watt light bulbs. Her hair was still in the long plait down her back. She reached back to touch the ends. The hair was strong and heavy, and she hadn’t cut it for about ten years now. Her husband, like most Russian men, liked it long. She remembered a girl she had gone to the Science Academy with who had never cut her hair in her entire life, not even once. At the age of twenty this girl had had hair on her head from when she was a child.
She picked up a bobby pin from the nearby dresser and deftly wound the braid up on her head. Poking the pin in the right spot, the whole braid was immobile. She looked back in the mirror. If she widened her eyes a bit, she could catch a glimpse of the washed-out blue of her irises encircled in dark black. Her eyebrows, like her hair and eyelashes, were of a medium reddish-brown. Freckles of nearly the same color ran across her nose and on her forearms. Her skin was a color some people in her family boastfully called alabaster. Now it was pink from exertion. She admired her own strength. Her biceps were noticeable even when she wasn’t flexing. Her stomach was flat, the muscles pulled tightly into themselves. Taut. It was one of her favorite words in English: taut. Tautness. She sucked in and became even flatter than before. Yuri appreciated her strength and hardness; she had not let herself get fat like most American women and many of her husband’s patients at the clinic. Tatiana was his forty-year-old trophy wife.
Yes. Taut. She ran her hand over her stomach once more, walked into the bathroom, turned on the water and stepped under the hot stream.
Michael couldn’t take his eyes off her. He watched as she picked her way around the machines after a half hour on the treadmill. She worked on her arms and legs, but she spent the most time on her stomach. He always wondered how her hair never got in the way. There it was, that long braid, day after day. It taunted him, just like she taunted him with her workouts. After the machines, thirty more sets of crunches in various positions. How did she manage it? The idea of an athlete returned to him. Her baggy clothing enveloped the shapes he hungered to see. His fingers itched to trace the pattern of muscles that must surely push through the skin of her abdomen. How prominent was her clavicle? How deep was the canal of her backbone on her back?
This was the third week he had been observing her. She was there every time he came. She must work nearby. 5 p.m. found her on the treadmill. At exactly 5:30 he knew she would be on the machines and at 6:30 she would be down on the mats doing her crunches as an aerobics class dictated one-twos in the background. Often she had earphones connected to an ancient Walkman. One day she was a no-show. He felt the nausea of disappointment making its way up his esophagus. He worked out in the hope that she would show up again. Almost a week passed with no sign of the Russian. Her friend was there, but not her. He imagined her run over in the street somewhere, her plait stretched out behind her. Or what was worse, he saw her under her big, fat Russian husband as he fucked her, the red braid wrapped around her body like a vise, teasing him in his imagination.
Finally one day the water fountain was out of order and he went further down the hallway to another one. Pausing by the pool observatory deck, he saw her, swimming in straight lines up and down like a machine. He felt the joy of the converted. He had been given a second chance. He watched her through the thick glass, smelling the clinical chlorine on the other side. Butterfly, freestyle, backstroke. Like a pro. Now he knew. She must have been a swimmer. The next day, he was practicing his strokes as well.
They lay in bed. Only on the weekends did they enjoy this luxury. Yuri worked all night on the nightshift at the clinic. They paid him double and after ten years, neither of them minded. They had sex because they should, and with Tatiana’s long braid flaccid across the pillow, they could imagine they were twenty years younger, back at the Science Academy in Stalingrad. Well, now Volgograd. Tatiana lay on her stomach next to her husband. With a lazy finger he traced the knobs of her back, now perfectly straight. Next to it, a scar that stretched the length of her back. She despised this scar. This one and only but undeniable imperfection on the life craft of her body. She turned instead on her back and guided his hand onto her perfect stomach.
“Smotri,” she said. “Taut.”
“Taut.” He repeated the English word, opening his large palm wide to encompass as much of her stomach as possible. Like the American basketball players he watched sometimes holding the large orange ball in one hand. “Don’t you think you are ‘taut’ enough?” he said, switching back into Russian.
“If I stop now, I will become another fat American for you to treat,” she said, attempting playfulness. It sounded like a threat.
It was four in the afternoon. She was meeting Yuliya for tea. Yuliya’s mother had recently come over, bringing a samovar with her from Russia. “You’re sure you don’t want to try Yuliya’s samovar?” asked Tatiana, knowing the answer. “Aleksey will be there, too. Not just us girls.”
Yuri turned over onto his stomach. Weekends were to be spent in bed in his opinion, whether it was with his wife’s accompaniment or not. “No, no. You go. I might go out later with some of the guys for basketball.”
Tatiana felt, for a moment, that they were strangers linked only by a common history.
Michael’s stomach churned the whole weekend with anticipation. She was never there on the weekend. On Monday he walked the entire gym to see where she was. He wasn’t stalking her. Never. He simply knew that if she met him, she would want to get to know him. He wasn’t a bad person. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, after all.
Yet he was obsessed with the braid. When she swam, he could see its outlines under the cheap elastic swim cap. He wanted to see it undone. He wanted to rake his fingers through it, to see her naked with it undone, the red-brown hair falling over her breasts. Now he had seen her in the swimsuit and he knew the definition of her body. The tautness of her stomach, the scar down her back. It was her secret reason. She hadn’t been an Olympian. She had had scoliosis—a curvature of the spine. When he saw the scar, he went home to find his Mayo clinic reference, to find out why someone would have such a hideous red scar down her back. When he realized this, he wanted her all the more. He wanted to touch the scar and run his finger down her back, along the lonely flat piece of skin that flowed between the scar and the spine. He wanted to be that piece of skin. He wanted his tautness and her tautness to come into hard contact, the planes of their bodies intertwining. When he got up the courage to swim in the lane next to hers, and he felt the waves from the water that she energetically pushed away hit his face, he felt as though he had come into contact with an intimate body part of hers. After all, the same water that enveloped her body now floated up to his. It engulfed them both. It was like being in the womb together, enjoying the inbred closeness of twins. For a moment he felt he would be too weak to swim at all that day. When she came back around however, he started to swim along with her. He even kept up with her for four laps and felt he had had something of a success that day. After that she kept going at the same clip, and he retreated to a leisurely breaststroke, happy that he could be so close to her at all.
The hair always got wet under the cap. Even the innermost part of her braid, tightly pressing against her head, was wet and greenish from the chlorinated water. Clean but horrific, she thought of American pools. She remembered some of the murky green water from twenty years ago in Stalingrad. Volgograd, she corrected herself again. Her mother didn’t even bother. They had changed all the names of the streets. No more Lenin Streets or Red Army Avenues. But her mother still called them by their old names. It was too hard to change. She began pushing the 99 cent plastic comb through her shampooed hair. The woman next to her had three different bottles in the shower as well as a pink plastic webbing that she used to rub shower gel all over her body. Tatiana snorted at this wastefulness. Soap was soap. She showered quickly out of habit, from her swim team days. She had never been one to joke around with the other women. She hadn’t done it when she was young and now she was too old to smile and crack jokes with women who complained they could not understand her. She pulled on her sweats and a loose flannel shirt from Good Will over the grayed bra. Maybe time for a new one.
She knew that their penny-pinching was really not so necessary. Yuri sometimes encouraged her to go and shop. “Just go and spend some money! We both earn enough,” he would say. But old habits died hard. Shopping malls were an enigma to her, too full of things: colors, shapes, useless objects. Besides, they were saving up. Saving up for ten years?, she asked herself. Yuri would never return to Russia. But why not? Tatiana dreamed of a large house in the countryside of the village where she had grown up, not far from Volgograd. With a garden, a dacha and a swimming pool, she said to herself.
She walked out of the locker room still combing her hair. It caught on a tangle and she tried to work it out. In the end she tugged at it with frustration and a small bundle of knotted hair drifted to the ground.
He didn’t examine it until he got home. He couldn’t stop himself from shooting furtive glances over his shoulder in the autumn twilight. The days were getting shorter and shorter. Maybe she went home for Christmas? Something in his mind seemed to recall Russians not having Christmas. Or maybe later than everyone else? He couldn’t remember. He should have watched that documentary on Russia on television. Well, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t her heritage that he wanted to fuck. At home he got out a magnifying glass and put the hairs under it in the bathroom. They were reddish-brown, slightly blonde at one end, dark brown at the other. Surprisingly soft—he had always thought they would be wirier. He rubbed them against his face. He imagined he was brushing his cheek against her hair. Her soft red hair and her hard body next to him. He wanted to shove her against a wall, hold her immobile, pull the rubber band from her hair and have it fall all around the two of them, enveloping them in a reddish-brown dream. The color of dried blood, he thought, trying to get the image out of his mind and return to her hair and her, alive, pulsing with life just like on the treadmill. What did she want so badly? What was she running from or toward? It occurred to him, right before he came, that on a treadmill, you couldn’t run from anything and maybe she, like him, was simply stuck.
She got home. Yuri was already gone. She saw a note scratched in his horrible Cyrillic on the refrigerator. This week and the next he was working double shifts, starting at 5 p.m. Double shifts. Double shifts with that girl he had taken up with. Some young Russian girl just off the plane in America. Tatiana did not really care. It was she that Yuri paraded around, not Nadia. Nadia had two squalid little brats in her ratty apartment. They had never met. Thank god. She opened the freezer and took out a plastic bag with some frozen pelmeni. She put some water into a pot and turned the burner on high. It wasn’t working again. She hit it a couple of times with the palm of her hand. Finally she hit it so hard that a shower of sparks spewed up into the air, a couple of which landed on her hair. They sizzled and died. She slapped at her braid with a cloth lying on the counter. Nothing happened. She turned off the heat and moved the pot to another burner.
She looked somewhat in awe at her hair. She sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs in their kitchen and pulled the rubber band off the end of her braid, slowly pulling her fingers through the hair to loosen it. It was still wet from the pool. Probably why it hadn’t caught on fire. Up closer to her head it was already dry. A part of her scalp was sore from where she had pulled at the tangle. Her scalp had always been unusually sensitive. It reminded her of when she was a child and her grandmother used a rough wooden comb to pull through the tangles of summer wind. Her hair had always been tangled and full of snarls after days of running around in the forest with her older brothers and their friends, rough housing and swimming in earthy lakes. Her grandmother had no mercy for her or her hair. It was one thing Tatiana had never learned to endure.
He had to speak to her. That night he decided. On Friday he would wait for her. The gym was too sacred. The fitness center, the machines, the pool especially, radiated a holy silence when she was there. He knew her name now. Tatiana. The older woman had called at her the other day, “Tatiana!” and she had magically turned around. He kept saying it to himself at night, over and over again. Tatiana. He would take out that little knot of reddish hair and rub it lightly over the edges of his ears; his neck; his nipples. It was delicate and tickling. There was nothing to it. Just wait for her to show up, like clock work. Simply say her name, Tatiana. What she would say or what he would say next didn’t seem to make a difference. What would happen after that? He couldn’t imagine. Would she rush into his arms right there on the street? Would she give him a blank stare? On the other side of the wall he could hear his neighbors having sex. Friday it would be him.
He paused for a moment. The feeling of furtiveness and guilt crept back into his mind. Was it really so strange for him to want this meeting? To be entranced by her hair? To lovingly caress the little tangle that had been pulled from her head? Michael wondered at himself for a moment. He tried to remember what he was like two months ago, when Tatiana hadn’t been a part of his life yet. There had been a boring, predictable rhythm to it. Work, gym, weekends at the bars. This was excitement and intensity and sensuality. People met all the time for affairs with strangers. Maybe it wouldn’t be just a one-night stand either. It could be more, eventually.
Michael’s mind turned back to the logistics of it all. He didn’t know how they would end up at his place, how to explain it, would she want to? No, of course she would want to. No one who worked out like she did was happy with their life, their job, their husband. Her husband was probably fat and hairy and drunk on Russian vodka all the time. They make them get married so young, he thought. That was it. She couldn’t make it as an athlete, so she married some guy who had prospects of getting out of the country. Now she was here and stuck. Did they have children? It occurred to him with a jolt. Somehow, though, he didn’t think so.
He fell asleep that night with her hairs wrapped around his fingers. Tatiana.
She saw him waiting for her outside the gym one day. He must think I’m stupid, she thought. But she knew what he wanted. It wouldn’t be the first time and certainly not the last someone would approach her. Or that she would accept. In her mind she already knew how things would be with him. He would finally talk to her after working out next to her for weeks. Casual. Let’s go for coffee. Why don’t they just say ‘Let’s go for a fuck?’ and get it over with? she wondered. She was the quiet surrendering Russian woman. She undressed for them, let down her hair, let them do whatever it was they wanted to do in bed, and she got rid of them in time to change the sheets before Yuri came home at 8 a.m. But as she approached this young man, she could see something in his face. Something hungrier than usual. She feared it for a moment.
“What do you want?” she asked him. Maybe he liked ferocity.
He looked dumbfounded. Maybe not so sure of himself as American men liked to think they are. He was young: much younger than any of the other men who had approached her before. Maybe it could be different this time, she thought. He looked like he was in his twenties. She wasn’t afraid of him any longer. She could hear his breathing as he dashed to catch up with her. She led him to her car and drove him to the small suburb where they had a patchy lawn and paneled house. He seemed unsure of himself, picking lint up off of his shirt and then feeling silly about throwing it down on the car seat. He held on to it instead, not knowing what to do with it.
“Why don’t you throw it out the window?” she suggested. She was suddenly aware of her accent, the way the t’s came out harder than in American English. He cracked the window open and threw out the ball of lint. “How old are you?”
“26.” His voice was that of a tenor and it broke half way through the word. After a moment of thought he added, “How old are you?”
He couldn’t believe he had just asked about her age. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be! He was supposed to be suave or at the least confident. Instead she was driving him in a beat-up station wagon that smelled of cigarettes. Her husband, he thought. Every so often he felt surprised by the fact that he was there at all, that she was there, that they were sitting there together fully clothed after having seen her curves so intimately exposed at the fitness center. He would have liked to make out in the car when they pulled up into the driveway, but she got out immediately after pulling up the handbrake. It was a manual gearshift, he noticed as he slipped out of the car with his gym bag. They took the back entrance into the house. He felt strange to be there in her house. They were supposed to have gone to his place. He wouldn’t be able to stay as long as he’d wanted to.
“My husband is at work until the morning,” she said, as if reading his mind. “Do you want tea?”
He nodded awkwardly. He wasn’t thirsty and certainly not for tea, but something in her voice made him feel like the question was a command. As the water boiled and she walked around the kitchen in decisive strides, he looked around the small living room and kitchen. Pictures from ski trips—recent ones. Her husband was a thick blond man. Thick, but not fat. Probably capable of killing him if he found him with his wife. Nearby were some matrioshka dolls lined up like colorful, bulbous soldiers next to the television set. An old looking stereo stood on another shelf next to tape cases with Cyrillic on them. Visotsky and Yuliya. Russian classics. He didn’t know that though. Instead he looked over at the bookshelves. Mostly textbooks—biochemistry, anatomy, biology. Some medical magazines on the yard sale coffee table and the upholstery unraveling at the edges of the couch that used to be blue but was more gray now than anything else. Grey, in fact, was the overall feeling of the whole interior. There was a fine coating of dust on almost everything. He wasn’t sure why he was there looking at this shitty house. He felt for a moment as if he were a potential buyer looking at a house with his real estate agent.
He walked back into the kitchen. They were in such close proximity now. He felt stiff and unsure. He looked around the room but the whole time he was trying not to think about her and her braid and how close they were to doing whatever it was he had wanted. The walls in there seemed sticky. He tried not to touch anything. She poured some water into mismatched mugs. One of them was from St. Petersburg.
“Is that where you’re from?” he asked.
She felt pity for him all of a sudden. He seemed so young. He could almost be her son. Almost. She could see he was nervous. She couldn’t believe that this was his first time with a woman. No. It had to be something else. She studied him carefully as he sipped gingerly at the hot tea. His face was handsome although still babyish with dark eyes and delicate eyebrows, high cheekbones and fine, curling brown hair that managed to shine even in the kitchen twilight. His lips were the most boyish part of his face: a pretty pink color and perfectly molded. Like Raphael’s angels that adorned Hallmark stationery in those malls she hated. Now those lips were arranged in a frown of uncertainty. His body was lean and muscular. He looked as if he had played some sport in school. She had seen him often in the gym, lifting free weights, occasionally running. She had noticed him in the water alongside her the week before. Definitely not a swimmer, although he could probably pick up the necessary tricks to make him better. They sipped their tea for another moment. Then she stood up and walked over to the closet to take her shoes off and slip on some knitted slippers. She brought Yuri’s slippers over to the boy.
“Here, they’re my husband’s.” She watched him take them gingerly and she couldn’t stop a smile from creeping over her face. He slipped them on and she decided they might as well get started. Her fleeting feeling of pity dissipated when she remembered how he had wanted this. He had approached her.
She walked into the living room and closed the curtains. She took off her shirt and pants. She had still been in her clothes from the lab. Finally he came over also, slowly realizing that she wasn’t coming back into the kitchen. His mouth fell open when he saw her.
The whiteness of her body embarrassed him. He felt like she was making a mockery of him with her husband’s used-up slippers. They made a sad flapping noise as he walked around the kitchen. He still had the mug of tea in his hand. Old Lipton’s. Everything about the house and the situation seemed tawdry to him. Then he saw her small breasts moving up and down as she breathed in her plain cotton bra. Immediately he felt the same excitement he had felt when watching her on the treadmill from behind. Her underwear was practical and cheap and the waistband came up just under her bellybutton. And that stomach. Just as strong and flat as he had imagined. And now only a couple of steps separated them.
Suddenly she gave a leap and ran up the stairs only stopping once to look back to see if he was getting her game. He felt a carnal thumping in his chest and realized he was supposed to follow. It would be a short game he decided. Suddenly, he felt he couldn’t wait any longer. He wished for an instant that they could have indulged in some erotic fantasy: handcuffs, doctor’s visit, feather boa. But it would have all ended in the same thing. It would have ended in this, he thought, kicking off the insulting slippers.
He ran up the stairs and heard her heavy breaths ahead of him only egging him on. He attacked her on the bed, ripping at her bra and underwear while she fumbled expertly with his belt. But he didn’t want it like this. He wanted to take her clothes off first. And he wanted to see her hair, tousled and undone. He pushed her hands away from his belt buckle. He finally got her bra off and her underwear around her ankles. She still had her socks and knitted slippers on, which he found erotically endearing. He knew she was already wet and waiting for him, but he had to find it. He had to find that part of her back and dig his fingers into it. It was that fluid piece of skin between the bumps of her spine and the ragged red scar that ran down alongside the spine, a pink river of former pain. He had pictured it so many times. Now he couldn’t see it, but he could feel it. He pushed his fingers into it as if by pushing harder, his hands could simply permeate her body to go straight through her. To feel her from the inside. She let out a small yelp of pain and only after a moment he realized he had drawn blood with one of his fingernails.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he repeated. She just shook her head and tried to reach up to undo the pin that kept her hair at bay.
She didn’t know why she had decided that this time would be different. Different than the other men who wanted to take her out to dinner and ply her already willing mind with wine. Then at their place they would passionately kiss her mouth and stroke her body her before finally consummating the union of two strangers. Maybe it was this one’s youth. Maybe something in his face. Maybe the fact that really, she was tired of working all day long in the lab, working out, coming home to nothing, and eating frozen pelmeni while her husband screwed some blonde ten years younger than her only to expect her to spend all weekend by his side in bed. Except when she was heating more frozen pelmeni for him. Maybe this was what a mid-life crisis was. Maybe this was revenge. Her lover was younger than his. Her lips curled at the thought.
In the living room, out of her clothes, she had felt the naked air on her arms and she had wanted to run. She hadn’t worked out that day. Now she had pent up energy. She wanted to explode somehow, in some way exert herself.
Now the pins in her hair were driving their way slowly into her skull. She could not wear her hair down in the lab where she worked. Her whole head hurt as the boy got on top of her and pushed her deeper into the pillow. He had stuck her in her back with one of his perfectly-formed boyish nails. She had watched him sipping the tea. His nails looked manicured. Not like her hang-nailed ones. Yuri always claimed he liked his women raw, no paint, no makeup. Bullshit, she thought, trying to reach for the boy’s belt buckle. He moved her hands away. So she went back to trying to pull the pins out of her hair.
She had put a lot of them in that morning because some hairs in the back had fallen out right before she had gotten in the car to drive to work. Last minute attachments. Now her head was tired from having them in the whole day. The boy was getting excited she noticed, yet still his pants remained zippered. She could feel herself getting ready. She didn’t really care about those pins.
He was in control now. It was his game now. He pushed and pulled at her lips and stuck his tongue down her mouth until it seemed he was kissing the back of her throat. His hands clamped down on her arms: he wanted her at his mercy. He freed one of his hands to pull at the hair pins himself. He wanted to have that hair cascade down her body, just like in his dreams, his fantasies. The little bunch of red hairs he had been holding even that morning was long forgotten. He had the real thing in front of him now, and he wanted to have it come down over his face and into his mouth. He wanted that tight plait to be his.
But the pin wouldn’t come out. He began raking his hands through her hair pulling at anything and everything that came through his fingers. She began to protest.
“Let go! Let go!” she shouted. “Pusti menya!”
Why couldn’t he stop? It angered him that the pin wouldn’t come undone. He felt fury come over him. This wasn’t how he had imagined it! This wasn’t right. He had been imagining each moment right before it happened but instead, nothing had happened as he had imagined. There was no fire of passion between them. There was only his hunger and her anger; his obsession and now, her pain. He couldn’t stop himself. He wanted her hair. The hair that had taunted him with its beguilingly youthful look. So innocent-looking. Except she wasn’t innocent of anything. The harder he pulled, the more he felt justified.
The pain from her head only increased with each tug. The stupid boy had stuck his hands in the side of her head. It would be impossible to dislodge the pins that held everything together like that. She felt anger start coursing through her veins. She was obviously not going to have a good fuck that day. Her scalp was sore from all the tugging, and he wasn’t stopping. Even her neck felt rattled and whip-lashed. He was so preoccupied with her hair, it was like the rest of her didn’t exist.
She remembered suddenly about the burner that hadn’t worked the other day. How she had hit it so hard, it had spewed sparks onto her wet hair. It seemed to her suddenly that one of her prize possessions which was either over-valued or under-valued by the men around her, was simply one big problem. And this boy was another problem. But she knew how to deal with him. She felt a surge of energy. It wasn’t even angry any more. She simply knew she was going to stop whatever was happening. Finally all that time at the gym would amount to something other than sparks.
He was pulling harder and harder. With each pull he just knew the pin would come out and it would all come down around the two of them and they would finally...they would finally what? He didn’t even know any more. His hand was getting more and more tangled in her hair. He wanted to come but he couldn’t go inside her now, not like this. Not all tangled and out of order. Suddenly he felt himself being lifted off her. He landed on the floor with a thud. She was up out of the bed. her underwear back in place. Was she going to go on top of him? He started to smile up at her at the thought. Before he knew what was happening, he felt her fist coming down on his left eye. Then on his lips. Then on his nose. Again and again and again.
Yuri got out early that night from work. He was back at home around 5 a.m. He lay down next to Tatiana. She slept on her back. He pushed up her top and placed his hand on her stomach.
“Taut,” he said.
She opened her eyes.
“You’re back early.”
And they lay there, awake together. Yuri thinking about how beautiful his wife’s body was, although he preferred that of his mistress who was young and a bit plumper. But certainly, he was proud of Tatiana’s body. All the guys at the clinic wished their wives had bodies like hers.
Tatiana was thinking about the boy. She couldn’t imagine his boyish face anymore. Not the way it had been in the kitchen, before she had changed it to the color of a red beet borscht. She certainly didn’t feel sorry for him now, and she hadn’t earlier when she had driven him to a nearby park and thrown him out of her car, bruised and bleeding. She had been proud of herself. She was strong enough to beat up a young man. Then she had gone back to the gym and worked out twice as hard, twice as long.
When she got up to go to work, Yuri noticed something different about Tatiana, although he couldn’t tell what. When he woke up in the afternoon and went to take a piss in the bathroom, he noticed a pile of reddish-brown hair lying on top of some tissues and dental floss in the bathroom trashcan. He shook his head, spit into the sink and went back to bed.