I. Sparrows

000 · 08 The Night Grows Pale

Back upon the dance-floor, Nyura in mine arms, someone brushes my shoulder in a way what requests attention without like, imposing. I turn, and see Mika — shirtless, a leopard-print scarf draped across bare shoulders, hair tousled, ‘tache pristine and bristling. I nod in acknowledgement; Mika and Nyura lock eyes and to my surprise, Mika winks jauntily at him, a wink what’s more than mere comradely recognition, more than a wink from one rose sister to another. Nyura blows him a kiss. Mika raises both eyebrows at me, at Nyura, and grins at both of us. Nyura blushes again, and hides a shrill giggle, excited and rollicking, behind his hand; I smile smugly, demonstratively squeezing Nyura’s thigh. Mika leans in to me, whispers, “‘shkoyakh!”

I nearly say something, but Mika’s already shifted his attention to Nyura, and like, oy! Like I can think of what to say, nu? ’Tis no revelation Mika speaks Yiddish; and were it a revelation, it would be no surprise — g-d knows, a goy what works down at the docks has plenty opportunity to pick it up — and ’tis a revelation but no surprise Nyura and Mika have a past together, a past what both consider precious, even if like, right this moment, I cannot quite tell what precisely it could’ve been.

Nyura and Mika confer, and Mika kisses Nyura’s cheek, and then bows to me, and takes leave of us, disappearing into the gloom and the dancing throng. I look at Nyura, who gives me a crooked smirk.

“A lady doesn’t kiss and tell, darling,” he says. “Especially when, ah, ’tis bleeding obvious.”

In lieu of a response, I smack his arse — just lightly — and he squeals in delight, and rises on tiptoe, and I bend down to meet his kiss.

The song descends to its end, and the next starts up, slow and gloomy and ominous. I shiver. Nyura cocks his head at me, and I shrug.

“Water?” he mouths. I shake my head; he squeezes my hand, and grabs mine arse so he can pull me closer, and we sway together. In this sudden quiet lacuna, I realise my legs hurt, thighs and calves cramping with the effort of standing. I gesture to Nyura, sweeping a hand down to my legs, over to a nearby pillar — a big round and tapered shtik of uncertain function — and he follows me. I lean against the pillar, and massage my calves, and Nyura tuts in concern.

“Should we go, ziseleh?” he says, and this time I genuinely do consider.

“Nu, hrm, nah?” I say, at length. “I’ll like, I’ll be fine. ’S just cramps. Nefilish bollocks again, I’m sure like, thou knowest.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Nyura says, and rubs the knuckles of his left hand. “Feh, ’tis unavoidable, for a nefil to be near decrepit by thirty.”

“Well, like, I’m not even thirty yet,” I say. “Got unlucky, nu?”

Nyura makes a soft noise of sympathy, and pats my thigh; the muscles respond with an unexpected jolt of pain. I shrug, grimacing to disguise the wince crossing my face. The silver’d dream-of-self, slumbering

eidos, suddenly stirs within me again, poking against my ribs, chafing against my skin.

“I’ll be fine, like? Please worry not,” I tell Nyura, and lean against the pillar again. “But like, um. Maybe we should go, now?”

“If thou wishest, darling,” says Nyura; he pulls me back towards the booth.

On our way there, Pasha Raskol’nikov, of all people, waves at the two of us. Nyura and I exchange a glance — it’s clear we have both experienced Pasha’s approach, and like, I suspect Nyura’s tried as much as I had, to let neither lust nor irritation colour his opinion of Pasha, and I suspect he’d failed as thoroughly as I have. I wave at Pasha; he disappears in the crowd.

Nyura helps me gather my belongings, and then leaves me by the booth for just a moment, to go tell Eli we’re departing. I lean against the partition, cross my legs and finally allow myself a moment to like, just to think, to contemplate my luck, and to bat away the guilt what’s starting to gnaw at me – oy, I should tell Nyura about my situation, right? I should.

But, nu—

A thin thread of pain flares up in my right calf; I wince and shift my weight onto the other leg, plant my walking-stick firmer on the floor. Mine eidos squirms again, its memory shifting beneath my skin like a fever. All my delicious restlessness and anticipation has begun to curdle into neurotic dread. I hug myself with my free arm, and tell myself to wait for Nyura, to submit not to panic, to dwell not on any such catastrophes what an unsettled and tired mind may conjure.

The eidos stirs again; it wakes when my heart aches so, when I fear Oylam HaZeh to be a mirage, an empty, stupid dream laid over an Eternal Now what holds no justice, no mercy, neither HaShem, nor Her Presence; a cold and sordid ruin what has only one explanation.

As I stand here trying to get a hold on myself, some type what I’d never seen before saunters up — a Ladsky shaygetz, white and pale and slightly orange from the kind of tan what apothecaries sell by the jarful.

He throws an appraising look over me, up and over — he reaches past my shoulder, tall by anyone’s else’s standards, but where I’m barely there, he’s wiry, well-muscled. He could snap me in half, and he rather looks like he’d like to.

He’s wearing black jeans in a drainpipe cut, a little too pristinely faded to be a pair what sees work, and a crisp white shirt open at the throat, the exposed chest smooth, sculpted and waxed.

Were this any other night, maybe I’d return his glance — nu, like, he’s a little too clean-cut and a little too macho, but there’s a smoulder in his eyes and his bleached hair’s cut and ironed just a little too well, and the stubble what limns his jaw is a little too deliberate for him to be merely a lost heter here to gawk.

But—

The way he carries himself gives me pause, the way he sidles up to me, the look he gives me — a look so much like the looks thrown my way when I loiter on Vısotskiy Prospekt, keeping an eye out for any Red Guard boys what think the problem with the tzar’s bobbies is their lack of class consciousness, and not like, the attitude they take towards the likes of me.

I turn away from him, interest ebbing. Oy nu, we do get these types here at the Peach from time to time, men what don’t know how to act around roses, what want to remain men and become not roses, and yet want to fuck us regardless.

’Tis irritating to see this one tonight, but ’tis only irritating, right up until with no pre-amble, he lunges deep into my personal space.

He smirks up at me, a nasty smirk what’s nothing like Nyura’s, nothing like Mika’s. Mine ocelli burn; a cold shiver snakes down my spine.

«C’mon, baby,» he says. «I wanna dance with thee.»

«Nu like, can’t you see I’m waiting for someone?» I say. He takes no note of my formality, of my shoulder raised and my face turned away — he steps in closer, crowding me. I step back, and then step back again, and my back meets the outer partition of the booth. A sudden miasma rises from the floor of my skull, clouds my thought.

Oy.

He takes another step forward.

«Don’t play hard to get,» he says, «it’s not cute when chicks do that.»

Oy vay iz mir.

I try to duck away from him, but he darts forward, and then he’s got hold of my hand, squeezing my fingers together.

“Oy! The fuck?” I yelp, and I try to withdraw my hand, but he’s holding it with an iron grip, and then he’s leaning in, pressing his lips against the back of my hand, and smiling, smiling like I ought to be smiling back.

Numb, I try to take my hand back; he relinquishes it not. I look around, aware of how my legs tremble, how my head spins and my heart races; out of the corner of mine eye, I glimpse Pasha. I wave to him and g-d, I must look frightful, for Pasha’s face falls and he dashes off to one side, disappearing from sight.

I sway; and then the shaygetz what’s got a grip on me swears, and then he screams, because Pasha’s got him by the scruff, and Nyura’s driven a stiletto heel right into the toe of his leather shoe — such nice shoes, bright and shiny and tasteful — and Pasha’s yelling for someone to go get Eli, to get Mika, and Nyura presses his heel down, and then my hand is free, and I duck to the side and down, and crawl into the booth.

My heart hammers in my throat, against my collarbones. Nyura’s in the booth with me, touching me not. I reach out to him, gesture for him to come closer, to take my hand. Oylam HaZeh’s fast receding, and oy nu, so’s my general awareness of things. I feel sick, dizzy. I reach my hand out to Nyura.

Nyura catches hold of my hand, but still, Oylam HaZeh yields under the onslaught of Eternal Now. I collapse to the floor.

And the silver’d eidos bursts forth, and all is falling stars and glittering fog, and shadows swirling in the depths of a reflection — a dream of my self ever striven for, and grasped not.

I rise to my feet a starborn child of two mothers, a graceful feathered mantis-thing, a chitinous swan, a creature of the Silver all full of eyes, a terrible sight to behold, and then my four slender legs buckle under me, and I fall into the darkness of a swoon.

End of Chapter

Chapter/Scene Navigation

Author’s Note

And so ends the zeroth chapter! Chapter 001 will begin the coming Sunday in January 2022. Thank you all so much for reading, and for the wonderful and enthusiastic feedback I’ve received thus far — and apologies for putting this update up a day late: it ended up being a little tricky to write, and I wanted to get some feedback before I did the final edits.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be adding illustrations to the first chapter, updating the credits page and — hopefully! — implementing a codex, including an overview of orthography and pronunciation, for those of you unfamiliar with Yiddish and with Eastern Slavic languages. I’ll also be making some changes to the spelling of particular words in the first two updates, and fixing a few stray typos.

Thanks again for reading! Gite vukh, and see you on Sunday in January!

(Before the site restructuring, this Author’s Note for Chapter 000 Scene 08 originally appeared on Chapter 000 Part 03.)

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