Countess Olga Ivanovna's eyes misted over but she fought back and suppressed all traces of weakness. With shaking fingers she started organizing their travel postcards, now Venice, now the Botanical Gardens on Maui island. She thought of how she and Valery had been known for shining, for intensity.
They had been the couple for whom every florid-faced Maitre d' had rubbed his hands joyously, and every passing woman had eyed enviously. She picked up the scissors from her desk and set herself to the cleansing task. Applying hard, sustained pressure she cut through each postcard to leave it in three or four jagged shapes, as if a bolt of lightning had struck it and blown it into pieces.
How it hurt to banish, to eternity, experiences which had once been parts of her flesh-and-blood life. All the fond hopes, the caring with which Valery used to engage her eyes, the axing and maxing of their bodies, even the daily activities which now seemed like precious investments, were all these to have no other end but a black hole from which there was no return? She felt her own soul draining into this liquid blackness. How could another person do this to her, she raged? Cause her to dwindle into non-existence? Her being seemed to have been cast adrift helpless, on a cloud. Her screaming could not be turned on anyone, left to reverberate within.
She stood up to try and affirm her stability. She walked uncertainly across the Persian carpet to the large plate glass window which, from the second floor of the villa, framed a view of the majestic mountains in the near-distance. It was early afternoon. Green trails and purple shadows appeared as brush strokes.
With a start she saw that it was snowing, the whole sky filled as if with floating flocks of little sheep, gently descending. She had always loved, who doesn't, the stately lightness of snowfall, but not today, not for a moment; the snow was carving out her innards, mocking her vitality, daring her to take charge, not to cringe, to be like one insubstantiality attacking another.
She made an effort to respond. Instantly, with a sting, the dreaded thought struck her. It was the season. He would be skiing in Gstaad. And not alone. She lunged blindly for her mobile phone.
"Bertrand, have you been able to find him?"
"Yes, Madame. He is in Moscow, trying to reduce operations. The strain has been high on him."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Was that because of my withdrawal of investment?"
"Madame, what are you saying? He has been cheating your businesses systematically for years. I have been following your instructions to make life hard for him"
"Yes, yes. I slipped up for a minute. Yes, you must not let him alone. Drive him down. But can you see your way to not destroying him?"
"I am now in the middle of serious legal actions. I cannot say how severely he will be hurt. Once we are in the hunt, Madame, we must not back off. He is still using the company credit card. May I cancel that?"
"What? But that will mean…he will be humiliated. But I thought you said we can't cancel the card."
"Technically we can't but we can certainly freeze it. He may go to court to fight but that will take time, as I will also cause endless legal delays. He will be out in the street much before."
"You mean all his expenses and his extravagances will become impossible? Does he… does he have a companion? "
"Perhaps. Most likely."
"Yes, of course, he can't bear being alone. But be careful. You shouldn't back a man into a corner so that he has no choice but to fight back. And I know him, he's a fighter even when his chances are low."
"Madame, there is no room for half-measures. If you want me to continue I need freedom to act as I see fit."
"I suppose so, Bertrand. I suppose so."
She flung herself onto a chaise longue and howled in pain.
10 days later
VIOLENT WINDS BLOWING INDOORS
Bertrand and the Countess Ivanovna stood side by side looking out through the large windows as a man, tall and tautly built, approached the villa on foot. He had not been allowed to bring his car in through the gates. As if in response he refused to walk along the driveway. Instead he was crunching his way over the snow-covered field, leaving behind him a long curving trail of dark footsteps. The morning was cold, so crisp and brittle cold that even snow couldn't fall anymore. Yet Valery had on only a half-jacket, unbuttoned, so that the grey silk of his shirt glistened. He was now close enough that the Countess could make out the cocky grin which never left his face. In a flash of rage she swore to herself that she would see to it. Just then he drew back his blond handsome head, causing her to shudder.
Bertrand reached out to steady her. "You know Madame, I was not in favour of your seeing him in person," he said primly.
"The way he begged, I had to shut him up." But when Valery appeared he took up so much space the room seemed to shrink.
"So Bertrand, old man, you got around to your favourite task of strangling me," he said. "But you will pay for your illegal acts. That's why I came today, to spare the Countess such a humiliation." He moved toward her, holding out his hands, smiling forcefully, "Olga, my wonder, that's not actually true. I would have made up any number of reasons to see you. Nothing..."
Bertrand broke in, feeling he needed to shore up the Countess, "No, sir, you will not be able to do a thing. You will be crushed."
"Why the eagerness, you deadbeat fool?" he sneered, not showing the slightest anger, but its complete absence was all the more frightful. "Does Olga also agree?"
The Countess could no longer remain silent. She had to do as Bertrand had requested. Just stay firm. We'll settle by forcing him to accept that he should never trouble you again. The thought stuck in her mind, "never again, never again to see him" , but she only said, "It was not we who let you go, you forget that it was you, Valery, who set your mind to other things."
Bertrand said, "You must go now. And never come again, or call, or write. In that case we will make a small but steady financial arrangement for you. The Countess offers this from the goodness of her heart. She has no wish to hurt you."
"Oh but she does, right across my chest. Why all the hate dear one?"
"You fancy too much. I don't even hate you. That would imply I cared."
For once, Valery was shorn of words. The ringing bells of church when he was a little boy returned to blow apart his brain; he was anxious, in a corner with no escape.
Olga regretted immediately what she had done. She didn't want to see him prone except when she was upon him. And only she, never any other sluggard minx. With complete clarity, in the burst of an instant, she decided how it had to be.
Bertrand was about to protest but was struck dumb by her icy look.
Shutting the door behind him he expostulated aloud, "That's why the swine begged to see her. He knew he would be able to twist her into doing his bidding. All her fortune is lost!"
As soon as they were alone she threw herself into Valery's arms. She had missed his hounding, pounding sex. Once glutted and satisfied, Countess Ivanovna whispered, "We cannot live together and we cannot live apart. There is only one way left to us. We came in pain and we depart in pain. You will do exactly as I say."
Valery had the blood of generations of the Tsar's cavalry officers in his veins. The gesture above all, was what they rode to, and to trumpet calls which pickled all judgment.
After long hours had passed with no contact Bertrand plucked up the courage to approach the heavy mahogony door. Listening carefully he seemed to hear the sound of violent winds blowing indoors. He ordered the staff to force an entrance.
The door shattered behind them, the little group regarded the scene with gaping mouths. The window was wide open and freezing cold was pouring in. On the chaise longue lay the lady Ivanovna in a transparent nightgown, dead, with a dagger dripped in blood beside her. The man was bare chested with a large red X cut into his hairy breast, hanging from the ceiling in a twisted noose made from his grey silk shirt.
Parwarish Lane writes to make readers experience emotions. [email protected]. This story is part of a collection produced by the Mayflowers Writing Workshop run by author Shazia Omar. To join the next session, please email [email protected].