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This is an unfinished short story from a while back… It takes place in 1991. 

 

It was in Palm Beach that I first wanted to be a cat. Or a dog.

I looked at them lounging poolside, each in its own chez striped in white and red, gray Puffy licking his paws, and two dirty-white Maltese, Buford and Twinkie, one scratching its balls, the other gnawing at its hind paw. Why was it that these puff balls had their breakfast and dinner served on a silver tray, walked three times a day, washed once a week while I had to scrub floors and pretend to be invisible like a modern day Cinderella? Because of Don.

He liked the dogs to kiss him on the lips, the cat to sit on his crotch, and all of them to sleep in his bed. I found the first two repulsive. The latter I could understand as Don was the loneliest man I’ve met, single and childless at 60. He also had the money for a dedicated live-in au pair for his pets. Me.

Didn’t these animals know that I had a graduate degree in Russian Literature (Silver Age) from a top university in St. Petersburg, I wondered taking out cat litter with one hand and squeezing my nose with another; that my father worked with Sobchak when he was the Mayor of Leningrad and that I was invited to model in Paris. Don knew all this, of course, and that’s why he hired me. Even though he later told me it was my long legs that made him choose me from sixty other applicants for the job. Had I not guessed by then that he was gay, I would have run away after the revelation.

Don also knew that I was a 20-year-old girl, alone in New York City, whose tourist visa would soon expire and who had not enough money to buy six chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Four I could afford, not six. How did he know? Perhaps by my look of wounded pride and panic, barely concealed by a forced half smile during the job interview three months earlier. Or conviction with which I told him that I’d be the best person for the job, as I had the intellectual upbringing and grew up with dogs, my broken English no longer an obstacle in conveying this half-lie.

After he explained my duties with the dogs, the dry cleaning and the upkeep of his Midtown penthouse apartment, he showed me to a side room – my own, with yellow and green wallpaper, a lock on the door and a separate pink bathroom, with a bathtub. Maid’s room it was called. Who knew that people still had maids at the end of the twentieth century, and that I’d be one of them? Try telling that to one of my high school friends back in Leningrad. They’d probably pee in their pants that their valedictorian classmate could fall so low. After Perestroika and Glasnost, after Russia’s first free elections, to end up a maid for pets in New York, herself leashed like a dog to room and board, and $150 a week.

The night I moved in, Don told me I could eat anything I wanted from his refrigerator. As I searched for words which would express my gratitude and not reveal the insult, he left the kitchen.

Back at home sugar and salt were allowed strictly in exchange for coupons, half a kilo per month. Was St. Petersburg of 1991 circling back to Leningrad of 1941, I thought, my fingers fetching slobs of crab meat out of a jar I found on the top shelf of Don’s monstrous kitchen cupboard. I’ve never tasted crabmeat before. As a daughter of a distinguished professor who survived the Siege of Leningrad, I didn’t appreciate being reminded that I’d starve, too, if not for the fancies inside Don’s fridge. I finished the crabmeat and drank the salty juice, catching the last drops with my tongue.

I then ate a pack of Raisinets. Their sweet warmth reminded me of childhood, of Grandma buying me a pack of chocolate-covered raisins every Sunday from a street kiosk near her flat. I haven’t had one in 15 years.

What was I doing in Palm Beach? Getting ready for Don’s New Year’s Eve party at his mansion. He told me he was expecting some of America’s richest (old money) and influential (politics) families in attendance and that besides making the house shine I should shine myself. While I accomplished the former in four hours – the four bedrooms, the den, the kitchen and now even the pool was sparkling – making myself shine was harder. I walked into my room, legs shaking, hands aching, and armpits smelling, and sat down on the high bed with embroidered white linens and hand-made quilt. I yearned for some stillness – to sit for a few minutes in the dim den, or lie down on the bed. And I only had one dress, long, black and sleeveless, which cost me whooping thirteen dollars on sale at Express. Not an evening gown, a 100% cotton dress a woman might wear to conceal her legs or hide her hips. I didn’t have to hide my body; people told me I had a perfect figure. I bought it because I could wear it on all occasions. When I showed it to Don, he wasn’t thrilled and left my room. I bit my nails.

“Here,” he said walking back in and handing me a flat white box tied with a silk red bow, puffing on his cigar. “Try that on. I want Koch and Shriver to appreciate my taste in household help.” I heard neither the names nor the offense. I felt like Vivian from “Pretty Woman” – the first film I saw upon arriving in New York. I didn’t have to sleep with the benefactor, though.

What was inside that box? Was he giving it to me for the evening or for good? Maybe I could meet someone at this party who’d tell me that this slaving for Don was only temporary, that I’d get a real job in no time. I united the bow and opened the box. A shimmering piece of red silk slipped from my hands and fell on the bed. The perfect dress I’d seen in my recurring dreams.

“Try it on and let me see,” Don said leaving the room. “The guests arrive in 30 minutes. You’re greeting them with champagne at the door. Have to pour it first, too.”

I took another shower before trying the dress on, as if afraid that the Cinderella transformation wouldn’t be complete without the cleansing. As I watched the water swirl around my feet, I wondered what my ex-boyfriend would think if he saw me in this dress. But first it had to fit.

I smothered my body, shoulders to toes, in a rose body lotion I found in the shower cabinet. “Crabtree & Evelyn,” it said on the label. Smelling like a rose, I wondered what the crab had to do with Evelyn, and who she was. A rose? And then I started to feel like one, petals slowly unfolding, ready for my grand entry to the ball. The look in the mirror, though, revealed that I also shined like a Russian samovar. I powdered my face, then found some talcum powder and put it on my chest and arms to stop them from reflecting the lights. Now I looked like a sugared apple, or a Geisha.

The guests would be arriving in ten minutes. I rubbed off the talcum with a towel, my skin burning; my eyes stinging. Inhale. Exhale. The dress was waiting for me, as was the beginning of something wonderful. I was certain of that.

To be continued

The Magic Flower

My nine-year-old daughter told me she’d be entering a NYT poetry contest.

When she was six, we co-wrote this short piece below.

 

The Magic Flower

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl. She loved to sing while walking in the rain, and to pick flowers. Her favorite color was red, and sometimes orange. More than anything, she liked to dream. One morning, when she woke up in her high bed, she saw a rainbow flower outside her window. It was as tall as a horse. The girl leaned out the window and tried to pick the flower, but it moved to the other window. The girl thought, I’ll just go to the next window and touch it. But then she thought, what if the flower moves to the window after next? She decided to walk out into the garden and talk to it. She knew it was a magic flower: if it could move, perhaps it could talk.

The dew kissed her feet as she took a few steps on the sparkling grass toward the flower. It remained still, and when she came closer, the flower leaned over the girl with its seven petals, and she found herself inside a giant rainbow umbrella. Is it raining? She thought. But the sun was shining – through the flower’s petals, red and orange, yellow and blue, making kaleidoscopic patterns on her white pajamas, as if pronouncing her the queen of the magic kingdom. The girl touched each petal, whispering a wish into their softness. The flower didn’t answer, only caressed the girl’s bare arms, and she knew that each dream would come true.

She dreamed of friends, who’d never betray her.

She dreamed of meeting a magician, who would understand her dreams.

She dreamed of traveling to magic countries and speaking in foreign tongues with people who looked nothing like her.

She dreamed of creating a magic kingdom of her own, where only kind, smart and funny people were allowed.

She dreamed of being an inspiration to people around her, even though she didn’t know yet what inspiration was.

She dreamed of never getting hurt again by people.

She dreamed of her mother being alive.

More than thirty years have passed, and most of her wishes came true. Except for the last two. Perhaps, it wasn’t a magic flower after all, she thought, sitting on a windowsill of her apartment, smelling the rain outside. Perhaps it was, because five wishes out of seven is better than nothing.

 

 

Contact:

media@vicamillersalons.com

Mag&Leb-mm-0013 

Vica Miller Literary Salons Turn Six & Celebrate with Russia! Night at Mimi Ferzt Gallery

NYC’s Top Literary Series Invites Book Lovers for a Night of Fiction, Memoir and Art

NEW YORKMay 14, 2015 – Vica Miller Literary Salons, a favorite NYC chamber reading series held in private art galleries, will celebrate its sixth birthday by staging the Russia! Salon at Mimi Ferzt in SoHo, the only New York gallery specializing in contemporary Russian art.

On May 20th, 2015, three Russian-American authors, well-loved for their distinct writing styles, captivating storytelling and intimate knowledge of the country, will be joined by a first time American novelist to share in the nostalgia, beauty, mystery and pain of a country that’s once again reinventing itself.

While no political discussions are planned for the evening, the Russia! Salon will be set amidst A Look at a Time exhibit of new work from Mikhail Magaril & Ivan Lebedev, and present narratives from places that are no more – 1970s Leningrad and late 1990s Moscow – that are sure to inspire a lively conversation during a Q&A session, the highly praised and most anticipated part of the Salons.

Elena Gorokhova, the bestselling author of A Mountain of Crumbs (Simon & Schuster, 2011), will read from a new memoir, Russian Tattoo (2015), of which Publishers Weekly said, “With a wry, unswervingly honest observer’s eye, Gorokhova chronicles the increasing strangeness of her new country… This work… is both wondrous and stinging.”

Katherine Dovlatov will read from Pushkin Hills (Counterpoint, 2014), her masterful translation of her father’s acclaimed novel Zapovednik. Sergei Dovlatov immigrated to the United States in 1978, publishing 12 books. After his death in 1990, he became one of the most widely read Russian writers of the latter 20th Century; his works are translated into 29 languages and there is a street named after him in Queens, New York. In 2015, Pushkin Hills was shortlisted for the Best Translated Books Award (BTBA).

Vica Miller, the founder of the Salons, whom Four Seasons Magazine dubbed “a modern-day Gertrude Stein,” will offer a chapter from her fast-paced debut novel, Inga’s Zigzags (Ladno Books, May 14, 2014). Kirkus Reviews wrote, “After 10 years in America, a Russian woman returns home hoping to make it big, but she finds herself distracted by the allure of a charismatic lesbian couple in this well-written debut novel…. Miller engagingly presents a heroine caught between contradictions: New York and Moscow; flashy glamour and self-pitying nostalgia; certainty and doubt… A sexy tale with plenty of Russian atmosphere.”

Rebecca Baldridge will read from her forthcoming (2016) debut novel, Moscow to the End of the Line. In part based on actual events, the book tells the story of a young expat’s life in Moscow in the 1990s, his descent into a decadent, hedonistic, sometimes criminal, lifestyle, and how he eventually found redemption.

“It’s been a thrilling adventure to foster the Salons,” said Miller. “Besides having featured over a hundred fantastic writers and poets, the Salons built a dedicated following and, according to Simon Van Booy, became ‘a vital part of the New York City literary scene.’ Along the way, I launched an indie press, Ladno Books, which in 2016 will publish a collection of short stories and essays, On Loving, by female alumni of the Salons, including Courtney Maum, Amy Shearn, Melissa Febos, Paula Bomer, and others. May 20th is special in other ways,” added Miller. “On this day, 25 years ago, I first landed in New York from Leningrad. And today, my debut novel turned one.”

5/20, 7- 9 PM

Mimi Ferzt. 81 Greene Street (bet. Broome & Spring)

On View: A Look at a Time. New work from Mikhail Magaril & Ivan Lebedev

Reading, Q&A, book signing & reception. In English.

Free. Must RSVP to info@vicamillersalons.com

Standing room only. No latecomers.

@vica_miller

Love is in the air, or so they say when Spring rolls in.

To celebrate a year since the publication of my debut novel, I’m giving away three copies of Inga’s Zigzags on Amazon.

First come first serve. All you have to do is follow me on Twitter, and if you’re already a follower, just click below and there you have it – a good love novel, free, just in time for falling in love.

Enter here.

Let the spring fever start!

He touched her hand as she walked by, on a street in SoHo. She turned, and stopped. It was dark, but the window display lit him up as if on stage. His eyes were fixed on her, in awe, and she tilted her head inquiringly.

“I have to talk to you,” he said. “May I talk to you?”

He was short, well dressed and slightly agitated. Older. She was tall, well dressed and tired after a night of performing. But, as was every time after a show, she was elated, as if still floating above the stage, nurtured by the shared intimacy of the crowd that responded to her and made her feel loved, and she longer had to feel lonely.

Her friends turned to look.

“What would you like to talk about?”

“Can I just tell you how beautiful you are?”

He was sincere and desperate at once, so she nodded: a crumb of admiration from a stranger was like a gift of kindness from above, and she accepted it, grateful yet skeptical.

“I want to hold your hand, and tell you things,” he said and reached for her hand. She withdrew it.

“I’m married, you know.”

“No, that can’t be.” He took a step back, then forward, inspected the rings on her left hand.

“They are real,” she said.

“Are you happily married?” He searched for the answer in her eyes.

She looked at the window display, with an empty-eyed mannequin dressed in orange, and nodded. He didn’t need to know the answer. She didn’t know it herself.

“And I am her lover,” her friend stepped up closer.

The man turned to the woman who had said the words, inspected her reddish hair, ironic smile, and turned back. He was ready to believe it, and that made her even more desirable in his eyes.

“Former lover,” she corrected her friend.

“Former?”

“And future, too.” The women smiled at each other. He nodded. It didn’t matter whether that was true or not. She was like a vision, and he didn’t want to lose it.

“I live nearby,” he said. “Would you like to stop by?”

She shook her head.

“I have to go home. There is a husband waiting for me, and two children.” She paused. “Are you that lonely? Nobody waiting for you at your fancy loft?”

“Nobody,” he said, and took her right hand in his. “I could read you some poems. I’m a poet.”

She looked at him, and didn’t take her hand away. She could feel his loneliness, it was much bigger than hers, but tonight she was still awash in the love she felt onstage, and didn’t want it to dissipate.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know about lonely. But I’m going home.”

She started walking away, then turned.

“You should write a poem, for me. Tonight.” She told him her name. “Find me, send me the poem, and then I’ll respond. Maybe.”

They walked away, the man standing by the lit window. On the pavement, atop a pile of recycled boxes, lay an enormous photograph, a woman’s portrait, in color. It must have been an ad for a beauty product, or a demo at a branding meeting, and now the face looked solemnly from the shadows of the street, discarded. They laughed at first, and took photos with the woman on the photo, and nearly fell into the pile of cardboards. She thought how the woman on the photograph was recycled, and all alone on the street. But the day they had photographed her, she must have been the center of attention, and all lights and cameras were on her.

She tried not to make any analogies – with her performance, and the man who found her on the street after.

The next morning she received a poem. It was about her teeth, and hands, and rivers flowing into the ocean.

She didn’t answer. The whole thing made her sad. The only difference between her and the poet was that he begged for attention on the street, and she didn’t.

(c) Vica Miller

May 22, 2014

Birthday

I want to tell you a story. It’s about this strange day, called birthday. You’ve been waiting for mine, eager to dress in your favorite velvet dress, and wear a special headband, and eat the chocolate-chocolate cake with me, and place your little hands on my face.

We now have the same digits in our ages. You and I are of the same age, only you have one number in yours, and I have two in mine.  The same digit, three times between the two of us. The funny thing is, I remember my parents at this age, but I hardly remember myself at your age. When you read this, will it be the same? Will you remember me as I were today, wondering alone through the foggy streets of Manhattan, or will it be me a decade from today, the digits moving swiftly to higher altitudes?

I think this day has a secret. And it’s like this: on your birthday, you can see everything, as if someone gave you a magnifying glass that’s connected to a telescope and you can look at both ends of your life, far, far out in both directions, from the day you were a cucumber wrapped in a blanket in your mother’s hands, to the day you’ll be wrapped in your last dress, your hands cold. And you are reminded…

You are reminded that your heart can belong in several places at once, and that it often doesn’t know which place to settle in, so it drifts from one memory to another, taking you with it. You are reminded that the best love is the one shared and saved, but also the one that never happened but still wants to.  They converge on this day, and you feel awash in love, in memories of what was, and what could have been. On this special day, those who truly love you step off from the locomotives of their lives, to pause and reach out, and while you no longer share their lives, or never will, the certainty of being loved is the most precious gift – because that’s all what we want, in the end.

On your birthday, they say, “May all your wishes to come true.” I wish to never stop noticing, so that twenty years from today, I could say, “Remember that day I took you to preschool in a cab, and you had two braids that I’d made in haste – one thicker than the other, and they looked so painfully precious that I thought I could die of love just looking at the back of your head,” and you’d answer, “I felt that.” Or do you remember the morning when a Dominican cab driver spoke Russian to us, because he had studied at a Moscow university 35 years earlier, and told us how he had been married to a Russian woman for 14 years, but she left him, and he missed Russia so much, so much, he had Russian radio on. You said, “Hola!” to him because you knew how.

Image

I want to notice the bursting maroon and yellow tulips, splayed by the morning rain, nodding their heads as I walk by. I want to remember the story of a man whose daughter ate paint off the walls in their new house, because the stress of moving was unbearable to her. I want to notice the first gray in my friends’ hair, and ask them what they grief about most. Can I even ask that? I want to remember how I celebrated my birthday at 15, and 21, and 30. And I want to remember why some years I didn’t celebrate at all. I want to notice the barges on the Hudson, so that I can remember the ships on the Neva. I want to remember every morning you came to my bed, the light of your dimpled smile shining on my life, erasing the melancholy that has been living in my heart for a while now. I want to remember the poem that I received on my birthday written in my language. I’ll let you read it one day. But mostly, I want to notice the moment of being alive. And that’s why your birthday is so good for you. It makes you feel time pass and it makes you notice life. Just that. That you’re ALIVE. And that’s the story I wanted to tell you on my birthday.

Friends, for  14 days before pub date, you have a chance to win one of the 14 copies of Inga’s Zigzags paperback. Yes, the books have been printed, and look great!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Inga's Zigzags by Vica Miller

Inga’s Zigzags

by Vica Miller

Giveaway ends May 14, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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