Tonight, over catfish and fried bread, we were treated to the tale of how V. as a very young man worked as a dolphin researcher on a barren island in the black sea, and how he and his fellow researchers were so hungry, Odessa being very far away, that they tried to catch one of the wild horses that roamed on the island by trapping it in their house. It ran around in circles wrecking everything until someone tried to catch it by the tail, at which point the tail ripped off and the horse jumped out the door. They also traded the gunpowder that they dug up from the bottom of the Black Sea aremoved from shells for milk and flour in town.
V. met T., justbeast's mother, because the university let the young biologists spend the winter on the medical school campus--sharing a room with the cadavers. T. was a medical student, working with dilapidated open-heart surgery machines that inadvertently crushed blood cells from time to time. In the summer, she returned with V. to the island, to cavort among pink-eyed phosphorescent shrimp and jellyfish. She arrived to meet him on a ship with crimson sails called Dream.
justbeast and pere adjourned to make coffee as T. began to talk about the old days in Russia. She told me exactly how a KGB officer would come and how they would get information from wives about husbands--so friendly, so innocuous: just tell us, we already know, it doesn't reflect on you at all. About living under Brezhnev--when he began, there was caviar in every store, but no one had any money to buy it, and when he ended, there was nothing to buy, but everyone had a full refrigerator, because everyone had learned how to steal.
But what killed me was how they talked about that barren island, and the stars, and the phosphorescence, about young men sneaking off with lovers into mosquito-infested weeds, about loving the taste of fried bread so much when you had had nothing all day, working in the sea. About how young they were, and how romantic, how little they knew about the world, that summer in the sea. And T. saying, as I poured my last vodka: all I ever wanted to bring with me to America was the smell of sea-grass on that island.
Life is so strange and beautiful and varied.
There are times when I am so grateful to know these people.