Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lost Kingdom

Her daughter is upset. This is, to Nicole, no surprise. All of her daughters' friends are married or in relationships that are almost certain to lead to marriage and her daughter often succumbs to the terrible weight of being alone. There's nothing Nicole can do, of course, and she's long since learned to let Kylie play out her own misery. It never lasts long, though. What's starting to bother Nicole is that it's starting to happen so often. And not just to Kylie.

"Oh, you'll find someone soon," she'll invariably tell her daughter. She's proud - extremely proud - that Kylie refuses to give in and lower the standards she set for herself, but sometimes wonders if the alternative might actually be a better lifestyle. Both women are single, Kylie in her early 20s and lifetimes yet to live; Nicole in her mid-50s and curious about how long a sunset can last. That Kylie is her child is the only reason Nicole's own desire for companionship is not the primary concern. Living vicariously will not make Nicole happy - this she already knows - but it keeps her going. She is her daughter's rock and she does not wish to let Kylie see just how brittle it's become.

Nicole's husband died when Kylie was barely three-years-old. A moment's combination of wrong place, wrong time ending in tragedy, as such moments tend to do. A fire at work, set by the building's owner as part of insurance scam, caused a heart attack. Forgotten in the panic, he was left inside by his co-workers. Nicole never learned what actually killed him. She hopes it was the heart attack, for the other is too much for her thoughts to handle.

Not religious, nor raising her children that way - Kylie has a little sister - there was nevertheless a profoundness at her husband's funeral. The priest had chosen the Lord's Prayer as the final petition, and as it came to close, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever," little Kylie looked up at her mother and asked, "Daddy lost his kingdom?"

No, darling, came the thought, I did. Looking down into Kylie's eyes, another thought quickly followed. And I will never let you lose yours. It is a vow that, even Nicole might admit, she has taken just a bit too seriously.

The truth is that Nicole is as lonely as her daughter. Indeed, even when Nicole meets and identifies young men that would be "perfect" for Kylie, there's almost always a subtle acknowledgment that these men would have been perfect for herself. Adding to the irony is the fact that most daughters are hesitant to accept men found and recommended by their parents, and Kylie is certainly loathe to do so - for she knows her mother as well as her mother knows her. Still, it provides Nicole the opportunity for a harmless flirt, ostensibly pitching her beautiful daughter to eligible men while fueling herself with enough lustrous banter to get through the week.

It is during one of her ostentatious flirts that her own loneliness becomes the subject of conversation. Nicole had been working on this one for a while and his willing vulnerability had the unintended effect of fostering a vulnerability of her own. "You know," she starts, only partially aware of what she's about to say, "if you were just a bit older or I a bit younger. Or both." The abandonment of fear that allowed her to say that immediately dissipates upon saying it. His reaction may break her heart, but he only smiles and offers a pragmatic reply. "3.5 billion men in the world, Nicole. You'll find one experienced, unafraid, and unwilling to waste any more time wallowing in his own loneliness." He pauses, though Nicole can tell there's something left unsaid. In reluctant acceptance of the entire situation, he adds, "And your daughter will, too."

As a Christmas present later that year, Kylie takes Nicole to a city Nicole's often dreamed of, but never had the chance to visit. Taken by the beauty of a snow-covered Moscow, Nicole allows her concerns - both of herself and of her daughter - to disappear in fields of white. Even the "random" appearance of one of Kylie's old boyfriends doesn't dissuade Niicole's spirits and, anyway, she's happy that Kylie is enjoying the company of a man.

Wandering through the cold streets of the Russian capital, Nicole slowly realizes that an evening has never felt so romantic to her, despite the fact that she's alone. The Spasskaya and Ostakino towers are as beautiful at night in person as they are in photographs. Touching the walls of St. Basil's Cathedral with her own fingers is almost as profound an experience as a three-year-old's daughters confused words. And even the skyline of the IBC seems to shout at Nicole in defiance of a shared loneliness. By the time Nicole is too cold to continue her sojourn, she doesn't even mind the ugliness of the dirty slush covering the city's roads. Indeed, Nicole decides, her night is far from over. "Can you recommend a good cafe?" she asks the taxi driver. "Of course," he replies with the same smile she saw in a pragmatic boy thousands of miles away.

At the French Cafe, just outside of the center of the city, she removes her overcoat and her ushanka and sits at the bar. She laughs gently as the bartender mistakes her for an American, but takes solace that they speak excellent English here. It will make her sampling of white wines far easier.

While taking her slow ride to inebriation, she glances casually around the cafe, taking note of all of the couples, what they're wearing, and how they whisper sweet - or lascivious, she hopes - things in each others' ears. She sees a man in a corner who, she can tell, carefully observes the room. He's roughly her age, perhaps a bit younger, and though his eyes point mainly at his table and his quickly emptying wine glasses, there's no question he's completely aware of everything going on around him. Upon her second - or is it her third? - glance, she thinks she sees a smile. Ah, been caught, she muses, deciding she should probably keep to herself in a city so foreign and, perhaps, so dangerous. Although danger to her, at the moment, denotes something completely different... something rather inviting. She smiles, orders a glass of a Chardonnay she's never had - nor even heard of - and fades into her glass. To her, this is a perfect evening devoid of perfection, but the ambiance of the night comforts her and refuses to let her give into any negative emotion. Nicole wonders what Kylie is up to and hopes that her friend doesn't have a surprise girlfriend who might ruin Kylie's evening.

It's just like her. Can't stop worrying about my baby girl. Living vicariously does not make Nicole happy, but it does keep her going. And long enough that the bartender jokes there are almost no more wines to sample. She's about to return the humor when the bartender smiles, turns, and rudely walks away. "Hey, I'm not finished with you yet, you," she scolds. She has quite the scolding voice and expression, and she might as well try it on a Russian.

"Excuse me." A voice behind her. One experienced, unafraid, and unwilling to waste any more time. "May I join you?"

She's not even turned her head before her heart skips a beat.

8 comments:

  1. Sorry, not in the mood, "gag me". Perhaps at a different time, in another life. ;)

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  2. ...and he doesn't even have to liquor her up. she's a bargain.

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  3. Like a fruit cake. Little pieces of fruit add to the overall taste. Stand out by giving a different type of pleasure : "One experienced, unafraid, and unwilling to waste any more time".

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  4. "While taking her slow ride to inebriation"
    I really like that line, and
    "a perfect evening devoid of perfection"

    "Oh, you'll find someone soon"
    I found myself wanting to slap both of these women!

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  5. and perhaps for one night she will feel alive again, but i hope it does not ring hollow in the morning...

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  6. I give you kudos for the feminine voice, but would have liked it more had you gotten a bit of her brain as well.

    And, oh, yeah, there's that faint but familiar theme music in the background again...

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  7. Hmmm . . I hear a few familiar strains here as well!

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  8. An evening in Moscow - совершенствовать !

    Nicole needs to wake up and get over herself.

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