Welcome to One Page, a newsletter that transports you into the world of an outstanding book for a few minutes. A couple of times a week, we'll send you a great passage from a book we love. (To subscribe, unsubscribe, or donate, see below.) Red Room Editors Gina and Huntington selected a page from Year of Night (2013), by Kate Beswick, to share with you today:
A light came up. There was a pier glass frame on the stage and standing in front of it was a woman in a long black cloak, her face covered by a white mask. The only part of her that was visible was the long, fair hair piled in high curls on her head. Beside me, Uncle Igor cried, ‘Ah! Olya!’ and leaned forward as if he could not believe what he saw.
'Who is it?' I whispered.
‘Olga Sherbyateva,’ he said, but I knew he was not paying attention to me. He said her name as if finally the evening had become important.
I thought, the “Wandering Dog” is not a suitable place, Mama was right. I didn’t know why Uncle Igor wanted me to come with him. I hoped we might go home soon.
Olga Sherbyateva held herself absolutely still, and then as the final notes of music died away, she began to speak. She spoke to the mirror, as if she played with her own image, but then she reached through the space, and drew out another female figure, dressed in a white cloak and wearing a black mask. Back and forth the two moved through the mirror, and seemed to exchange roles as one woman drowned in the mirror and the other rose out of it, like a wave, interchangeable, yet never meeting. Sometimes the two women embraced or danced, but always something pulled them apart, the phrases they spoke and the phrases they heard.
‘What does it mean?’ I asked Uncle Igor. He did not reply. I knew he had eyes and ears only for Olga Sherbyateva.
I sensed that it was about love, that there was a ballroom and death. The two women echoed each other. The words rose and fell, sang and tolled like bells.
Larissa touched my face gently, and lifted a tear from my cheek. She held it on the tip of her finger and smiled at me. Uncle Igor had not taken his eyes off Olga Sherbyateva.
The two women met on either side of the glass, if the mirror had had glass. They drew closer and closer together. The silence thickened. The room was as still as midnight. Then, from offstage, there was a shot. It was as if it had gone off inside my head, as if everything had exploded. I screamed, ‘Help! Help!’ and continued to scream, while, as if from a great distance, I heard the audience laugh. Some people applauded.
‘You fool,’ Uncle Igor said harshly. ‘You stupid little fool. Idiot! It’s a stage effect.’ I covered my face, but he pulled my hands away, and I saw that he was furious. I shrank back from his glare. ‘Someone must be dead!’ I said. ‘Someone has been shot.’
‘Something is ruined thanks to you,’ he said. ‘You have ruined it.’
The masked figures had fled the stage. There was a hum of voices around my head, from which I gathered that people were trying to decide if there should be more readings. ‘Of course there will be more readings!’ cried Larissa, in her harsh voice. ‘I have come from Moscow for poetry.’ There would certainly be more readings if she wanted them.
‘Come on,’ Uncle Igor said. ‘It’s late. This is not a place for children.’ He said it as if it were my idea that he brought me here.
When we were outside, I sobbed, ‘I didn’t mean to spoil it ... it scared me. Someone was killed. I was sure someone had been killed. Murdered.’
‘That’s all right, never mind, golybushka,’ he said. ‘Don’t cry. It wasn’t your fault.You couldn’t help it. I forgot. It isn’t a place for children.’
‘Will you take me again?’ I pleaded. It had nothing to do with being a child. In there, that sort of thing didn’t matter, I could see that. I wanted to go there over and over until I understood.
‘Another time,’ he said. ‘And now, come on, or your mama will be angry.’ He hailed a hansom cab for us. ‘It is late and you are tired,’ he said, as he helped me into it, and I felt relieved to be very young.
We went back to the house, so overheated, so safe, but afterwards I always believed I had heard a real shot and had seen a man’s face, unrecognisable, behind a veil of blood.
40% off Books, and Lunch with a Red Room Author
A $1 donation allows you to buy any of Kate Beswick's books today at 40% off. For a donation of $5, $25, or $100 you'll get 40% off all books purchased in the next week. For $250, we'll send you a copy of today's featured book, Year of Night, plus, a Red Room Author will take you to lunch. Onerous restrictions apply.
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