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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

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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

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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

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Hello, my friends! This post includes parts from the latest update for my Kickstarter backers.

I’ve been so busy finishing up book production, that by the time the galleys were out (on February 14, as promised), I nearly passed out with exhaustion. The good news: advance reading copies are here and Inga Belova will soon be part of your household (so to speak).

Let me tell you this story in pictures:

1. Book production consists of two key parts: cover design and interior (pages) design (after the manuscript has been edited, proofread, and proofread, and proofread). The front cover was designed by TM/R, the back cover and interior pages by Yelena Ebel.

MLR_001_Zigzags_ARC_Cover_1

Covers and spine, final proof for Advance Reading Copy (ARC)
2. Picking the fonts. I have chosen the font that was used by Simon Van Booy for his latest novel, The Illusion of Separateness. When I saw the first page designed, I loved the look, but when I printed it, I realized the font was too small (see below), and I wanted wider page margins, so that the book “breathed” better and was easier to read. We increased the font to 12 points, and widened the margins. With that, the book went from 250 to 340 pages.

page1

3. Final review. While the book covers were being designed, I read and re-read the manuscript until I almost went blind (again, this was AFTER the book has been edited and proofread by the editorial team), first in a PDF format, later on paper (what’s called pass pages). We had to tweak quite a few things. For instance, at some point I realized that there were too many word breaks. We went through the whole designed manuscript and tweaked dozen of instances.

pass pages

4. Printing the galleys. I chose McNally Jackson bookstore to print the galleys on their Espresso Book Machine, for two reasons: they are located in SoHo (I wanted to come over and review the proof in person), and I was hoping that giving them business would make it easier for me to score a reading with them. Well, their prices are outrageous ($17 to print one book of this size – usually it’s around $8), and nobody replied to my reading inquiry. However, the book looks great (I changed the paper for the cover from matte to satin, as the colors didn’t look right on matte), especially when placed on a shelf with New and Noteworthy Fiction, and I scored a reading at another book store, of which more below.

McNally

I brought the galleys home…

galleys1

and still can’t believe that I can hold MY OWN BOOK in my hands! When people ask me how it feels, I say “surreal.”

galleys2

5. Fulfilling the rewards. Some of you have already received the printed book, others will do within two weeks. Ebooks will be sent over in mid-March, i.e. two months before publication, as promised. When you do receive your book, please post it on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. – it’s an immense help in generating the buzz!

wrapped

backer
6. Next steps.

  • I have created the sites, ladno.com and vicamiller.com, for Ladno Books and for my author site, and they will soon be developed into real web entities that they should be. All backer names will appear on vicamiller.com.
  • The book has been registered with Bowker.com (the main book database), the paperback ISBN – 978-0-9913834-0-5 – is active, which means that Inga’s Zigzags can already be pre-ordered by book stores, libraries and organizations.
  • I’ll be creating a Kindle version, and setting up the Amazon page in the next couple of weeks. It will become available for pre-order then. So exciting!
  • I have arranged a series of readings, and shall be appearing at a number of venues in May and June, including Book Culture (where the book launch will take place on pub day 14.05.14), my own Russia! Salon (with Boris Fishman, Lara Vapnyar and Alina Simone), Generation R at JCC Manhattan (with Vicky Kuperman) and Coney Island Museum, for Brooklyn launch (thank you, Fred Kahl, for helping with this opportunity). For a complete list of readings, including those in the fall, please go to Ladno Events page.
  • Inga’s Ball will take place on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 (for backers at $100+ levels), and will be an extravaganza of burlesque, reading, opera singing, video projections, and dancing, with Gay Pride Parade flair, emceed by the phenomenal Shelly Watson.

6. Publicity. Ah, what would we do without publicity? As is well known, the best publicity for any book is word of mouth. I rely on yours! The early readers had this to say about my novel, “fascinating read”, “impossible to put down”, “I love your book.” Music to my ears. To increase the good buzz, I plan the following:

  • Make a Kindle version of Inga’s Zigzags available for free to Amazon Prime users for the first two months
  • Solicit as many reader reviews as possible. That includes you! 🙂
  • Give the book for free to libraries. Yes, you won’t believe it, but often libraries don’t have the funds to buy books! Since I am my own boss here, libraries won’t have to pay for my book.
  • Have a series of author interviews and book reviews. The novel is out with a number of lit and lifestyle magazines (and Kirkus Reviews!), so I’ll keep you posted.
  • One interview already took place – on parenting and writing. Please take a look at Cari Luna’s wonderful blog to read it. Here is the pict that goes with it.

Vica Miller with children
For a complete list of press sightings, please see ladno.com/press

7. Lessons Learned. This has been a fascinating ride, albeit the one that felt like a roller coaster at times.

  • I have learned who my true friends are, and who could care less about me succeeding.
  • I learned that some people/organizations are so stiff that it’s better to stay away from them (McNally Jackson, Powerhouse Arena), while others are enthusiastic, supportive and down to Earth (Book Culture, Pen Parentis, Lit at Lark, the publisher of Riverhead Books).
  • I have learned so much about the business of publishing that I feel truly confident about running my own indie publishing house, Ladno Books.

Book culture

Book Culture on Broadway & 112th, where book launch will take place on May 14, 2014

It feels very empowering to be able to do what you want to do, the way you want to do it, while helping others. By that, I mean that

  • percentage of all Inga’s Zigzags sales will go to support LGBTQ rights in Russia;
  • the next Ladno Books title will be On Loving, an anthology of short stories and essays by women writers, exploring all kinds of love, from forbidden and kinky to platonic and romantic. I’m thinking of the kind and caliber of writing that would have been banned, like Nabokov’s Lolita was, until someone brave published it overseas. I choose to be that brave person, and do it right here, in the U.S. 🙂

Thank you for your support, my dear friend. You made my dream come true.

Here is to making lemonade out of lemons!

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Writer & Literary Salon Founder Vica Miller Launches Kickstarter Campaign for Inga’s Zigzags

A Crowdfunding Campaign to Publish Debut Novel Starts at 9:10 am on 11/12/13

 

New York, NEW YORK – 11/12/13 – As the debate over traditional versus self- publishing continues, writer and literary salon founder Vica Miller announces a Kickstarter campaign to finance the publication of her debut novel, Inga’s Zigzags.

“Inga Belova leaves NYC for post-perestroika Moscow to launch her own business. She falls in love with two women along the way,” reads the description of the novel on Kickstarter. Miller, a tech PR executive and mother of two, says that it took her eight years to write, edit, workshop, and rewrite the novel, and that she’d rather devote her time to bringing the book directly to the reader than do the “agent dance.” “I believe Inga’s story will resonate with many,” adds Miller, “but it might be a bit outrageous for U.S. publishers, so I decided to dare the outrageous on my own.”

Inga’s Zigzags is the story of a 28-year-old Russian woman, who after a decade of living in New York, returns to post-perestroika Moscow to start her own business. When her prospects fall through, she meets Emma and Alexandra, a pair of wealthy magazine publishers, who lure Inga into their bed and then propose to start a company together. When the threesome starts to fall apart, Inga is forced to make some difficult choices to find her way through the labyrinth of Moscow’s intrigues and heartbreaks.

Miller says that the novel will appeal to anyone who’s ever struggled with finding a place in life – be it in geography, jobs or relationships. The book is about evolving, a yearning to belong and feel accepted. Inga Belova is a New Yorker who has an MBA but feels misplaced. She is a double single – as in, divorced with no boyfriend – but then she finds double love. Yet she continues to feel in between – countries, careers, and lovers. She questions her sexuality, national identity, and loyalty. Miller says the book is especially timely, considering the recent crackdown on gay rights in Russia.

As a literary salon founder and published author of short stories, Miller is not a newcomer to the literary scene. She is fully aware of the lingering stigma that self-published books might not be on a par, in both writing and production, with those published traditionally. But knowing that worthy books often take years to get published traditionally, she says it’s time for conventions to change. A savvy professional, who has spent two decades in technology and public relations, Miller is on track to produce a high-quality book. She has already assembled a stellar team to help her: an editor, formerly with a big-five publishing house, an award-winning photographer for the cover image, a well-respected book cover designer, and a publishing consultant.

“I believe in the power of the creative community,” says Miller. “I can’t do this alone. I need good people to help me, and I need to pay for their efforts. It takes between $5K and $15K to publish a quality book.” She hopes to raise $5K, with a stretch goal of $10K.

Miller seeks donations from her backers ranging between $5 and $1,000. The rewards for supporters include advanced copies of e-book, signed copies of a paperback, reserved seating at her salons, invitations to a book launch party, and PR services. If the project is funded, a percentage of future book sales will go towards supporting LGBT rights in Russia.

A New Yorker for over two decades, Miller is an avid supporter of the arts: she has hosted dozens of writers, both published and not, at her salons, including Arthur Phillips, Lara Vapnyar, Michael Cunningham, Simon Van Booy, Jennifer Gilmore, Boris Fishman and Liesl Schillinger among others. She’s also backed two projects on Kickstarter, including The Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

Miller’s project launches on Kickstarter at 9:10 am on 11/12/13. “Help me bring Inga’s Zigzags to you, the reader,” says Miller. “I promise you will not be disappointed.”

For more information, please visit http://www.vicamillersalons.com/news.

Media Contact:

Vica Miller

+1-917-915-2054

millervica@gmail.com

@vica_miller

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For Simon Van Booy

       Despite his father’s misgivings, Charles had never developed apprehensions about his height or his abilities to achieve greatness because of it. At five feet four inches, or 165 cm, and 31 years of age, he published his first novel, married a six-foot-tall model, and got her pregnant. It was a boy, they told them.

He looked back at his classmates from high school, tall, sturdy and slightly dim by his own standards, who went to college on football scholarships, married at graduation to become divorced drunks (or drunk divorcees) today, and smiled a sorrowful smile. They were good guys, those boys turned men, but why did they have to put so much emphasis on appearances, as if they were girls brainwashed by “How to…” sex articles in Cosmo and Self? What happened to true aspirations, he wondered? Greatness didn’t depend on height – Napoleon must have known it, and so did Charles. That conviction utterly puzzled his father who could never get over his own meager height of 5’6”, and who divorced Charles’s mother at the insistence that she’d had an affair with a taller man. His mother despaired for a year, her innocence offended as much as her heart broken, and married a six-foot-two real estate agent just to spite her ex-husband. She said he was great in bed. Charles didn’t believe her.

No, he had no reservations about his height. He loved being short. He said it gave him a better perception on life, for his head was not far from Earth, which kept him grounded, confident, and on his toes.

Charles met Veronica at a reading. She sat in the first row and blocked everyone else’s view. He loved her insolence, for he could tell she didn’t have reservations about her awesome height the same way he didn’t have about his. When the last writer had left the podium, Charles asked the curator if she knew the lady.

“Veronica. Sharp as a nail, outrageous, too. Former model turned clown. Strange story.”

“Can you please introduce us?”

“Watch out what you wish for,” said the curator, a slim 40-year old in tight black pants and red V-neck T-shirt, cocking her head. “She eats men alive.”

“Sounds great.”

Charles said his name and kissed her hand, and she smiled an open, genuine smile, like Christmas tree lighting up in the dark, and they didn’t have to speak. He looked at her and she knew.  Charles still remembered that moment as the most profound of his life, as if he had entered a buzzing electric circuit and become part of it. She set him in motion, and he was grateful and happy, even now, when she was no longer around.

They loved walking in TriBeCa, dressed in Prada, Kawakubo or Sander, holding hands. Their first brunch at Bubbo’s, first dinner at Cercle Rouge. She always wore Roger Vivier shoes, even in a drizzle. Some people turned to look at them, the woman towering over a man, like a lighthouse over a small boat approaching the shore. Happy goose bumps ran down his back at those moments, for he knew he had found his marina. He’d get hard then.  Veronica would look down at Charles, nod appreciatively, and lean over to French-kiss him, for the added benefit of the onlookers. They could talk about anything: books, dogs, mobile apps, bondage, exotic travel, physics – never bored, always laughing.

Their City Hall marriage ceremony, attended by Charlie’s mother and her husband, and by Veronica’s best friend Elizabeth, with whom she’s had an affair for three years, lasted exactly three minutes. Veronica’s parents didn’t attend because they were dead. “A car crash. That’s how I have all the money,” she’d said once and never returned to the subject.

He admired her lanky legs draped in a red skirt, and her small breasts peaking at him through a sheer white top. She never wore a bra. She didn’t have to. The minister woman didn’t look at them once while mumbling the words from the podium. She did notice them at the end, after they said their “I do’s” and her face took a human expression for a moment, perhaps for the first time in months, that of delight and curiosity.  Charles raised himself on tiptoes, Veronica leaned forward, and he cupped her breasts for their first married kiss.

They soon discovered each other’s fantasies, and hardly a night went without play. Sometimes neighbors looked at them with disdain, for they kept the windows open at night, but Charles turned them around with highly cultured talk on the latest trends in British literature and invitations to brunch at their loft. A year after their wedding, the entire tenant body of their four-story building on Wooster Street was convinced of their privilege to know Charles and Veronica Gladstone, the next big thing in literature and entertainment, respectively. They felt justified when Charles’s first novel won a literary prize, and Veronica’s solo show was aired on PBS.

Charles loved her even more when he first held their son, Otto, in his arms. The boy had his mother’s lanky legs, his father’s brown eyes and bushy black hair. He kissed the baby’s palm, then his wife’s hand, and cried, for the first time in his adult life.

Otto was too little to understand what happened, but old enough – at four – to know that he no longer had a mother. It happened quietly, one early morning at the kitchen table. Veronica’s disease was a mystery, had no symptoms, but was the reason for her great height. She had warned him before the wedding that she might evaporate soon – that was the word she used, evaporate – but Charles didn’t believe her. Or didn’t want to believe her.  He still didn’t. She was his angel, and angels don’t evaporate, even Otto knew that.

Charles knew that grief was a room with no doors, so he opened the windows, for his son. He took him around the world.

“We will plant a flower for Mom in every country we visit,” he told Otto.

“A red one, her favorite,” affirmed his son. “She’d like that.”

They visited thirty-two countries, for each year of Veronica’s life. When they came back a year later, Otto, a boy of five, stood in front of the mirror, and said, “I’ll be tall, like Mom.”

“She’d like that,” answered Charles.

(c) Vica Miller 

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***

I run to you until I trip on silence…

My rivers flow into you until you choke.

Your mouth takes no more, you gurgle.

Sheets are wet.

… You enter me, again.

My scream fades into a whisper,

Lingers in the fog, mutates into nothingness.

Nothing is new.

… Everything has been.

Repeat. The fire turns to ashes. Love to pain.

Who am I in this labyrinth of questions?

A sigh, a comma.

… Breath aborted.

Lost in my own inflammation of the senses.

So senseless.

… Feelings? Nonsense.

To fuck, to own, to release.

… Repeat.

Until you trip on silence.

(c) Vica Miller

***

Of future, do not speak.

Don’t ask or plan or wonder,

Don’t envision.

It is a flighty bird that no one’s seen,

Impossible to catch,

It calls you.

You want to see it but I beg you:

Close your eyes.

And stay with me today. No need to look,

Just feel.

The unity.

My breath is hot,

My mouth on your temple.

My hand is light, it’s holding yours –

Forever.

We have a future; that I know.

Trust me.

This notion, small yet grand, is all we need.

The bird is ours. It called us.

We will follow.

But please don’t tame the future,

set it free.

We shall be found there, soon.

And until then –

my name is love.

I found you.

I’ve come to stay.

Just hold me.

(c) Vica Miller

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For my Mom.

.

I always remembered her lips. Round, smooth, never chapped and always pink and shiny, even in the coldest Russian winter. I haven’t seen her in twenty years, but when she wrote and asked to meet, the first thing I thought of were her lips. Not how she had hurt me, not how I had run away – her lips. Are they the same lips, I wondered, plump and moist, as if gilded by a morning dew? Does she still apply Chap Stick in the middle of a hurried storytelling or a recital, as she did back then, in St. Petersburg Conservatory – leaning forward, absorbed by the boys’ chorus singing a cappella, their high voices reverberating off the ceilings? Or in the midst of telling me of her boyfriend back in New York, wondering if he’d been faithful while she was away, trying on Russia?

Every time we talked, my eyes rested on her lips, soft as a child’s skin, their smooth curves as if outlined by a painter. Not that I ever touched them, but I must have missed half of her stories watching her lips. How they moved. How they glistened after she licked them. How they stretched into a smile, exposing two rows of perfectly even white teeth.

I was ready to turn off the dim desk light, my husband already asleep, his tall body draped over the bed, when I saw her email. After all these years Eden wanted to meet, as if nothing had ever happened. As if she hadn’t made me feel homeless and unwanted; as if I hadn’t cried every night for a week, alone in a foreign city that was her home, where she was my only friend. As if I could erase my memories of first sharing Russia with her, later wrecked by the cold shower of her irritation and annoyance with me in New York – because I stayed at her parent’s townhouse on Gramercy Park for a week too long.

But that was twenty years earlier. I had moved out of her parents’ house. I had found a job. I’d gotten married and had kids. So had she. And now she wanted to meet, in the city, which has become home to us both, and where we could have lived the rest of our lives without ever seeing each other again. Without exchanging another word, another glance, or point of view. Never having to remember what we shared back then, at twenty. Our walks along the Neva, the White Nights, the never-ending days, the evenings stretching into mornings under pretense of dusk; slumber parties, Eden wearing a torn Beatles tank top, me in a new Run DMC T-shirt. Translating Akhmatova’s poems into English, and Blake’s into Russian, reading Nabokov’s Lolita in two languages at once, savoring every vowel as if it were a jewel, wondering if she’d ever speak Russian like that, if I’d ever speak English like this.

Today, twenty years later we’ll meet again, because I said I’d love to. Because I forgave her. Because I didn’t think she’d remember my hurt. It was my hurt. And she probably had enough of her own to bother thinking about mine. Everybody has hurts. One doesn’t even have to ask, to know how much pain a person has had in her life. Just stand closer without uttering a word, look into her eyes a little longer… it’s all there.

So I’ve forgiven her even before I agreed to meet. She was still the same Eden, who had sat across from my mom at our kitchen table in St. Petersburg. I can’t sit across from Mom anymore, but I can sit across from Eden, so I went.

On Thursday afternoon, walking towards the meeting place I suggested, a small Italian Salumeria across from Verdi Square, I looked at my reflection floating in the windows, wondering what I’d say.  “Kak dela?” or “How are you?” Would she speak Russian to me and I, English to her, as we had back then?

I spotted her as she walked out of a chocolate shop, and saw her lips: pink and moist, stretched into a Cheshire smile. Eden – the mother of two, a 40-year old, with a few wrinkles around her eyes, but her tight full lips, unchanged. I felt as if a piece of my youth had been given back to me. Why was it a relief to know that her fabulous lips were intact after all these years, as if they held a secret to preserving my own life? We hugged.

“Shopping for chocolates?” I asked.

She laughed. “They have the same store in my building in Brooklyn,” she said. “I had no idea they were in Manhattan too.”

“I wanted to sit outside,” I said in Russian. Eden nodded and sat down, hurriedly putting away The New Yorker she held under her arm, then fumbling with a white serviette. A twig of rosemary fell out from it and Eden picked it up. I looked away to give her a moment. Was she nervous?

It was the first spring day after the longest winter. Forsythias and dandelions bursting with yellow. Pregnant women no longer covering their bellies, as if ready to aknowledge to the world the lives inside them.

I had wine, Eden didn’t.  She was still breastfeeding, she said. I’d stopped a year earlier. We talked, in English. Her father had died 10 years ago. I told her my mother had thought him so elegant and well groomed, unlike the men at her research institute.

“Well-groomed?” Eden asked and laughed.

“Yes, that’s what she said.”

My mother had died 19 years ago, I told her. Eden’s green eyes glistened.

“She made the best pirozhki in the world,” she said. I nodded. The cherry trees across Amsterdam Avenue unfolded in pink fuzziness. I thought of Mom’s hands.

“I want to bring up something from the past,” Eden said. “You probably don’t even remember this episode, but it’s been haunting me for a long time. Before you moved out of our house, you told me that I’d changed so much since Russia, and had become nepristupnaya… I didn’t know the word and had to look it up. Unapproachable. You told me I’d become unapproachable, not the person you knew.” Eden took a sip of water from the tall glass in front of her. “I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?” Her lips quivered and a round tear rolled out of her right eye and settled on her upper lip.

I touched her lips for the first time. They were as soft I’d imagined. I caressed her forehead and her eyebrow. I told her I didn’t remember saying those words, but that the hurt still lingered somewhere in my body, behind the rib cage, on the left, close to where the heart is. That I didn’t think she’d remembered “the episode”. I told her I’d forgiven her. We’ve known each other for more than half of our lives.

As I looked at her round face, framed by short brown hair with streaks of gray, into her green eyes made bigger by sadness and regret, I thought about how we had met and then parted, like two ships that left a harbor in different directions, sailed through rough waters, lost the way at times, and then drifted back. Is this a safe harbor now? I’d like to think it is. And we’re still the same ships, now moored, older and rougher on the surface, our sails withered by time and loss, but more forgiving and willing to forget.

After, we talked all the way to the subway, unable to part, as if our words entangled us into their nets, into the woven bits of our lives, each new sentence a string to our past, and perhaps future.

VM © 2011

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It was the turn of her head full of dark curls that stole his breath. He wanted to come closer and place his hand on her neck, trace the curve of her ear lobs, bury his face in the unruly hair falling in a wave over her right shoulder. He watched her run her fingers over the cheap jewelry in the gift shop, her lips pursed, and decided to buy it all, the amber necklace, the blue-glass beaded bracelets, the fake emerald brooch, the silver ring with a large round crystal, if only she’d let him place them around her neck, over her breasts, on her fingers and wrists. He approached her from behind, and stood there, eyes closed, inhaling her scent of strawberries, with a touch of cinnamon.

      She turned sharply and he felt pain on the right, where his liver was, as her pointy elbow settled below his diaphragm. He groaned and bent over, placing a hand on her shoulder, a gesture unintentional yet fitting.

      “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said taking a step back and leaning away from him, her eyes two enormous question marks. “I didn’t mean to hit you.”

      He cracked his face into a smile and managed, “It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

      He felt so short of breath that he lowered himself to the floor, his back against the counter, and she slid down next to him. They sat there for a few moments, in silence, looking at the opposite wall with displays of masks and trophies, like two visitors in a museum staring at a painting they couldn’t understand.

      “You seemed really taken by those,” he said pointing to the jewelry counter above and behind them.

      “I designed them,” she said. “I come here every once in a while to see if anything got sold. Not much since last week. This is the first store in the city to take on my jewelry.” She sighed. “It’s exciting. But they don’t really sell anything.”

      He chuckled, and offered her a hand to get up.

      “Which one is your favorite?” he asked her. “You must have a favorite, right?”

      She leaned over the counter and he took in the curve of her lower back draped in a black tunic, her pointy bare knees, and tiny feet dressed in red leather shoes with silver buckles. He noticed braided leather bracelets on her wrists, and touched his own.

      “I love the emerald brooch,” she said. “It’s a replica of my grandmother’s. Was a family heirloom until my mother lost it. I recreated it from memory.”

      “I’d love to get it for you…,” he paused. “I don’t even know your name.”

      “Erica.”

      “I’d love to get it for you, Erica. If you let me,” he said.

      “That would be so sweet…” She stumbled.

      “Jake,” he mouthed.

      “Jake,” she repeated.

She lifted her eyes, and he saw the dark green dotted with yellow, circled in black; the curling eyelashes; the thin waves of her eyebrows; the dimples on her freckled cheeks, the chapped pink of her lips, and fell in love.

“Nobody ever bought me jewelry. Perhaps they thought I don’t need any since I design it.”

He paid the fifty dollars, the sum that would ordinarily last him for a week of lunches, and fiddled with the lock, trying to pin the brooch to her jacket, the needle escaping the round head, prickling his fingers. She placed her hand on his.

“Let me,” she said. When she finished, he kept his hand on hers.

Her eyes looked a deeper shade of green with the brooch sparkling below her chin, reflecting the ceiling lights, just above her left breast,.

coney

Jake offered her his hand, and Erica entwined her arm in the nook of his elbow. They walked over to the boardwalk.  The wind has picked up, the waves now crashing on the shore in a steady crescendo, the purple clouds weaving a pattern of giant leaves and flowers over the horizon. The Coney Tower silhouetted against the orange sun like a faithful guard of the boardwalk.

      “Do you live around here?” she asked.

      “No, I’m on the Lower East Side.”

      “What brings you to Coney then?”

      “Friends at the Sideshow. I’m a free-lance clown, mostly in Manhattan.”

      She took a step back and gave him a onceover, a look of disbelief in her green eyes. Jake wrinkled his forehead and nodded, reassuring her. Her laughter rolled like pebbles on the beach. Erica threw her head back, then bent over, hands on knees, charcoal hair falling forward, almost touching the ground.

      “Oh my God,” she said breathless. “I’m sorry. I’ve never met a real clown before. That is so funny.”

      He laughed with her, and their duet sounded to him better than any music.  His eyes teared up, and he had to hold on to the railing. Jake wanted to laugh with her when they were old, when their teeth had fallen out, and gums made smacking noises, and when they could no longer make love, just hold hands.

      He straightened out, and placed his hand on Erica’s shoulder, then fixed the single hair stuck on her lip. They haven’t even kissed and he already thought of spending his last days with her.

      Erica moved in two weeks later, with her overweight cat, three old leather suitcases full of skirts and semi-precious gems and tools, and a jewelry worktable. He pushed aside the costumes in the closet, and sat on the bed watching her place skirt after skirt on hangers that looked like torture contraptions with multiple metal latches to hold several pieces. Erica hummed “Let it be, let it be,” as she struggled to fit in the last of her wardrobe. Jake got up and took the hanger from her, placed it on the closet door, and walked her to the bed. They stayed there until the stars filled the frame of a darkened window.

      The ring had a dot of emerald surrounded by specks of diamonds, the gold band thin as a hair. He had spent the last of his money on the vet for her fat cat. “Now you know why I’m always broke,” she had said as they picked up the cat. “He’s my best friend, and I’d do anything for a friend.” And he would do anything for her.

      Jake made penne with cherry tomatoes in olive oil, sprinkled with oregano, set the round table with tea candles and greeted her at the door with a glass of red.

    “Has it really been two months?” Erica kissed him on the lips and sat down stretching her legs. He traced the outline of her smooth calves, unfastened the silver buckles, slid off the shoes and kissed her toes, one by one, then placed the small box between her feet. Erica lowered herself on her knees, next to him. Jake thought he noticed a hint of hesitation cloud her face, but the next moment she opened the box, smiled, and said, “Yes.”

      He felt as proud as he had back in high school, when he won a national archery contest and all the girls discovered him for the first time. The trophy still graced one of the shelves in his apartment – their apartment – next to his cactuses and masks. He felt that he had finally won the main prize: his bride, the most beautiful girl in the world. What better present could he wish for his thirtieth birthday? He had proved his father wrong.

      Erica came to see his performance a week later. Jake felt proud to have her in the audience, emerald eyes locked on his hands, as he made tangerines disappear between his fingers. She came backstage after and invited him for a drink, just the two of them.

      “Sweetheart, wouldn’t you like to go out with the cast? They’re great people, and I’d love to show off my future wife,” he said, running his hand through her smooth black hair, kissing her forehead.

      “I’d like to be alone with you tonight, if you don’t mind.”

      Jake marveled at how much this woman loved him, and cherished every moment alone with him. He would do anything for her, anything at all.

“Of course,” he said squeezing her small hand.

Erica rolled and unrolled the napkin on her plate until the fork fell to the floor, its clinking interrupting the white noise of the restaurant. Heads turned and he saw a flicker of annoyance on her face.

“Is everything all right, sweetheart?” He asked and put his hand over hers. “Is something the matter?”

Erica removed his hand from his, and straightened in her chair.

“Everything is great. There is just one thing,” she said and took a sip of water.

Jake felt the muscles in his jaw tighten. “I’m listening.” He bit his tongue and flinched but she didn’t notice.

“I didn’t know how to tell you. I wasn’t sure about it, actually, but now I am.”

He felt warm inside, not worried at all. He knew what she was about to say, and smiled inwardly.

“I’m pregnant. It’s too late for an abortion. And I wanted to keep it anyway.”

Jake cocked his head to the side, marveling at her beauty and determination. He always wanted a daughter, a little copy of him, who’d run around and laugh at his magic tricks.

“Of course, my love! We shall have this baby.” He covered her hand with his, the engagement ring settling under his palm, stroking her perfectly shaped fingernails.

Erica wiggled out her hand and he watched her drink a full glass of water, gulp after gulp, her eyes set on him without blinking. She put the glass down and dried her mouth with a sleeve of her shirt.

 “I was pregnant when we met.”

The ice cubes from his glass hit the floor and slid under the table. Jake felt his shins prickled by the cold bites. He looked at Erica, who kept saying something to him, and couldn’t decipher the words, as if she was encased in a balloon and speaking in a slow motion, “boowaoo, boowaoo” coming out of her mouth. He felt pain in his chest and thought of all the arrows that have flown out of his bow.

“I understand if you want to break off the engagement.” He watched her take the ring off. “That man meant nothing to me. I just wanted a baby. I don’t expect you to understand. I’m really sorry.”

She got up from the table and headed towards the exit. Jake now felt as if he was in a movie, and couldn’t wait for it to end, for the titles to appear, so that his Erica could come back to him, without another man’s child growing inside her.

“Wait!” he shouted.

Erica stopped and turned half way, craning her neck, the gesture that stole his breath two months earlier. Jake watched her loosen her hair from a bun with one hand, the black waves settling on her shoulders. She completed the turn, like a gymnast straining not to lose balance at the end of the performance, looking small but determined, waiting to be judged, a smear of red lipstick on her right cheek.

“Wait!” his father had screamed at him, the eight year-old balancing on the edge of a cliff. Thirty feet below, the dark ocean water roared like an animal. Jake turned back, then pushed away with both feet.

He was flying.

(c) Vica Miller 2012

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The white mesh hung from the broken wedding tent like a veil, forgotten.

Her daughter became a wife a few hours earlier.

Jill was alone on the beach, now dark and silent, with the solitary boat blinking its yellow eye in a distance. The tent stood like an abandoned ship run ashore, the garland of flowers still woven over its wooden poles, the mesh curving in the wind – a damaged sail. One beam has fallen to the ground forming a giant upside down V with another. Jill picked out a few flowers. White lilies, maroon gerberas, orange birds of paradise. Why didn’t they bring them inside after the ceremony? They would have made beautiful bouquets, for her daughter’s suite, for her own room.

She remembered how Ross brought her a white rose every Sunday.  She’d still be asleep, and he’d walk in with the first rays of sun, an old aluminum tray in his hands – the one they had bought at a flea market the day they had moved in, now riddled with scratches,- a cup of coffee, a toast with jelly, and a single white rose on it. She’d stretch and smile and he’d lean over and kiss her good morning, then watch her drink the coffee.

She had since defined happiness with that moment: the first sip of coffee, her husband watching her.

When the cup was half-empty, he’d take it from her hands, and put it back on the tray, pull the sheets down. He watched her for minutes, sometimes half an hour, as she lay naked in bed, not moving, his hand gliding over her shoulders, breasts, belly, thighs. She had once asked him what he was doing. “I’m remembering you,” he’d said, “for when I’m not here.”

Image

Jill stood under the tent. She no longer cried. She had stopped a while back, two years to be exact. Ross had known for a while but didn’t utter a word. She blamed his paleness for sleepless nights, and his thinning body for a new diet he took to observing, welcoming his Sunday observations with eagerness. There was something exquisitely seductive and forbidden in the way he traced her collarbones and nipples, circled her belly button, never crossing into where she wanted to be. He loved her on other nights and mornings, always when she least expected, but never on Sundays. “One can’t make physical love to a Goddess,” he’d say. “This is how I worship you.”

Jill wondered if Zoe’s husband knew the art of seduction. He must have since she chose him. And who was she to worry about it – a widow, a broken ship in the desert? A decade without him. Why was she still here?

The single beam of light from the hotel’s roof cut in her eyes and she turned towards the ocean. The mesh caught her right hand and she let it. “A widow’s glove,” thought Jill as she traced individual tiny squares of the white web with her index finger and thumb.

She remembered her own wedding. Thirty years has passed, and she still felt the touch of his fingers, dry and nervous, as they traced her eyebrow after he lifted the veil. Ross looked through her, his eyes filled to the brim. Her own mother wasn’t there to see that, but she, Jill, was here for her girl tonight, her little princess now twenty-five. But Ross wasn’t. How she still missed him, every day, every morning, tonight.

She stood under the tent, inhaling the damp air, getting lost in the monotonous rumble of the waves, their drops settling on her face. Someone touched her shoulder.

“Mom, what are you doing here? Everything alright?”

She turned to face her daughter, lean and strong, a stubborn little girl with green eyes and thick flowing hair, Ross’s.

“Yes, baby. All is well. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“I want you with us, Mom. Please.”

Zoe kissed her on the forehead, and turned back, now in a cocktail dress, the gown gone, no veil.

Jill stood under the tent as if it could save her from herself; two used and broken things, now superfluous and forgotten. She untangled her hand, put a few flowers into a small bouquet. The fragrance, sweet and already rotting; some petals wrinkled, some falling. He had always called her “My flower”.

Jill picked more flowers, reached up to the horizontal beam, and tore them out, one by one, the gerberas, the lilies, the birds of paradise, her hands full, flowers falling on her shoulders, breasts, feet. She put the heap on the sand, and rushed to the left beam, untangling the leaves, tearing off the stems, cupping the flower heads. She held them all, her hands forming a giant O, her face inside the fragrant breathing sphere. The ocean lulled its song. Jill stood upright, then let the flowers fall to her feet. Her sorrow went with them. She stripped the right pole of the flowers, tore down the mesh, spread it on the sand. They were hers, Zoe’s, Ross’s. She gathered every last one on the mesh, folded its corners, made a knot. The bale was heavier than she thought, so she dragged it. She thought of knocking down the beams, their listless nakedness hovering over like a bad omen, but had no strength.

Jill entered the ballroom as the first dance was ending.

“I’m back,” she said to Zoe, and poured the flowers at her feet. “This is from Dad… He loved you more than anything.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

© Vica Miller

1/27/2013

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