THE LUCENT DUSK
The Field of Mars
Light came through the window, trickling morning all over the room. Tatiana Metanova slept the sleep of the innocent, the sleep of restless joy, of warm, white Leningrad nights, of jasmine June. But most of all, intoxicated with life, she slept the exuberant sleep of undaunted youth.
She did not sleep for much longer.
When the sun’s rays moved across the room to rest at the foot of Tatiana’s bed, she pulled the sheet over her head, trying to keep the daylight out. The bedroom door opened, and she heard the ﬂoor creak once. It was her sister, Dasha.
Daria, Dasha, Dashenka, Dashka.
She represented everything that was dear to Tatiana.
Right now, however, Tatiana wanted to smother her. Dasha was trying to wake her up and, unfortunately, succeeding. Dasha’s strong hands were vigorously shaking Tatiana, while her usually harmonious voice was dissonantly hissing, “Psst! Tania! Wake up. Wake up!”
Tatiana groaned. Dasha pulled back the sheet.
Never was their seven-year age difference more apparent than now, when Tatiana wanted to sleep and Dasha was…
“Stop it,” Tatiana muttered, ﬁshing helplessly behind her for the sheet and pulling it back over her. “Can’t you see I’m sleeping? What are you? My mother?”
The door to the room opened. Two creaks on the ﬂoor. It was her mother. “Tania? You awake? Get up right now.”
Tatiana could never say that her mother’s voice was harmonious. There was nothing soft about Irina Metanova. She was small, boisterous, and full of indignant, overﬂowing energy. She wore a kerchief to keep her hair back from her face, for she had probably already been down on her knees washing the communal bathroom in her blue summer frock. She looked bedraggled and done with her Sunday.
“What, Mama?” Tatiana said, not lifting her head from the pillow. Dasha’s hair touched Tatiana’s back. Her hand was on Tatiana’s leg, and Dasha bent over as if to kiss her. Tatiana felt a momentary tenderness, but before Dasha could say anything, Mama’s grating voice intruded. “Get up quick. There’s going to be an important announcement on the radio in a few minutes.”
Tatiana whispered to Dasha, “Where were you last night? You didn’t come in till well past dawn.”
“Can I help it,” Dasha whispered with pleasure, “that last night dawn was at midnight? I came in at the perfectly respectable hour of midnight.” She was grinning. “You were all asleep.”
“Dawn was at three, and you weren’t home.”
Dasha paused. “I’ll tell Papa I got caught on the other side of the river when the bridges went up at three.”
“Yes, you do that. Explain to him what you were doing on the other side of the river at three in the morning.” Tatiana turned over. Dasha looked particularly striking this morning. She had unruly dark brown hair and an animated, round, dark-eyed face that had a reaction for everything. Right now that reaction was cheerful exasperation. Tatiana was exasperated herself— less cheerfully. She wanted to continue sleeping.
She caught a glimpse of her mother’s tense expression. “What announcement?”
Her mother was taking the bedclothes off the sofa.
“Mama! What announcement?” Tatiana repeated.
“There is going to be a government announcement in a few minutes. That’s all I know,” Mama said doggedly, shaking her head, as if to say, what’s not to understand?
Tatiana was reluctantly awake. Announcement. It was a rare event when music would be interrupted for a word from the government. “Maybe we invaded Finland again.” She rubbed her eyes.
“Quiet,” Mama said.
“Or maybe they invaded us. They’ve been wanting their borders back ever since losing them last year.”
“We didn’t invade them,” said Dasha. “Last year we went to get our borders back. The ones we lost in the Great War. And you should stop listening to adult conversations.”
“We didn’t lose our borders,” Tatiana said. “Comrade Lenin gave them away freely and willingly. That doesn’t count.”
“Tania, we are not at war with Finland. Get out of bed.”
Tatiana did not get out of bed. “Latvia, then? Lithuania? Byelorussia? Didn’t we just help ourselves to them, too, after the Hitler-Stalin pact?”
“Tatiana Georgievna! Stop it!” Her mother always called her by her ﬁrst and patronymic names whenever she wanted to show Tatiana she was not in the mood to be fooled with.
Tatiana pretended to be serious. “What else is left? We already have half of Poland.”
“I said stop!” Mama exclaimed. “Enough of your games. Get out of bed. Daria Georgievna, get that sister of yours out of bed.”
Dasha did not move.
Growling, Mama left the room.
Turning quickly to Tatiana, Dasha whispered conspiratorially, “I’ve got something to tell you!”
“Something good?” Tatiana was instantly curious. Dasha usually revealed little about her grown-up life. Tatiana sat up.
“Something great!” said Dasha. “I’m in love!”
Tatiana rolled her eyes and fell back on the bed.
“Stop it!” Dasha said, jumping on top of her. “This is serious, Tania.”
“Yes, all right. Did you just meet him yesterday when the bridges were up?” She smiled.
“Yesterday was the third time.”
Tatiana shook her head, gazing at Dasha, whose joy was infectious. “Can you get off me?”
“No, I can’t get off you,” Dasha said, tickling her. “Not until you say, ‘I’m happy, Dasha.’ ”
“Why would I say that?” exclaimed Tatiana, laughing. “I’m not happy. Stop it! Why should I be happy? I’m not in love. Cut it out!”
Mama came back into the room, carrying six cups on a round tray and a silver samovar—an urn with a spigot used for boiling water for tea. “You two will stop at once! Did you hear me?”
“Yes, Mama,” said Dasha, giving Tatiana one last hard tickle.
“Ouch!” said Tatiana as loudly as possible. “Mama, I think she cracked my ribs.”
“I’m going to crack something else in a minute. You’re both too old for these games.”
Dasha stuck out her tongue at Tatiana. “Very grown-up,” Tatiana said. “Our Mamochka doesn’t know you’re only two.”
Dasha’s tongue remained out. Tatiana reached up and grabbed the slippery thing between her ﬁngers. Dasha squealed. Tatiana let go.
“What did I say!” Mama bellowed.
Dasha leaned over and whispered to Tatiana, “Wait until you meet him. You’ve never met anybody so handsome.”
“You mean better-looking than that Sergei you tortured me with? Didn’t you tell me he was so handsome?”
“Stop it,” hissed Dasha, smacking Tatiana’s leg.
“Of course.” Tatiana grinned. “And wasn’t that just last week?”
“You’ll never understand because you are still an incorrigible child.” There was another smack. Mama yelled. The girls stopped.
Tatiana’s father, Georgi Vasilievich Metanov, came in. A short man in his forties, he sported a full head of untidy black hair that was just beginning to turn to salt and pepper. Dasha got her curly hair from Papa. He walked past the bed, glanced vacantly at Tatiana, her legs still under the sheets, and said, “Tania, it’s noon. Get up. Or there’s going to be trouble. I need you dressed in two minutes.”
“That’s easy,” Tatiana replied, jumping up on the bed and showing her family that she was still wearing her shirt and skirt from yesterday. Dasha and Mama shook their heads; Mama nearly smiled.
Papa looked away toward the window. “What are we going to do with her, Irina?”
Nothing, Tatiana thought, nothing as long as Papa looks the other way.
“I need to get married,” Dasha said, still sitting on the bed. “So I can ﬁnally have a room of my own to get dressed in.”
“You’re joking,” said Tatiana, jumping up and down on the bed. “You’ll just be in here with your husband. Me, you, him, all sleeping in one bed, with Pasha at our feet. Romantic, isn’t it?”
“Don’t get married, Dashenka,” her mother said absentmindedly. “Tania is right for once. We have no room for him.”
Her father said nothing, turning on the radio.
Their long, narrow room had one full bed on which Tatiana and Dasha slept, one sofa on which Mama and Papa slept, and one low metal cot on which Tatiana’s twin brother, Pasha, slept. His cot was at the foot of the girls’ bed, so Pasha called himself their little footdog.
Tatiana’s grandparents, Babushka and Deda, lived in the adjacent room, joined to theirs by a short hallway. Occasionally Dasha would sleep on the small sofa in the hallway if she came in late and didn’t want to disturb her parents and thereby get into trouble the next day. The hall sofa was only about one and a half meters long, more suitable for Tatiana to sleep on, since she was just over one and a half meters long herself. But Tatiana didn’t need to sleep in the hall because she rarely came in late, whereas Dasha was a different story.
“Where’s Pasha?” Tatiana asked.
“Finishing breakfast,” Mama replied. She couldn’t stop moving. While Papa sat on the old sofa, still as a building, Mama bustled all around him, picking up empty packs of cigarettes, straightening books on the shelf, wiping down the little table with her hand. Tatiana continued to stand on the bed. Dasha continued to sit.
The Metanovs were lucky—they had two rooms and a sectioned-off part of the communal hallway. Six years earlier they had built a door to partition the