by Raji Singh
(Shelva Fiction’s girlhood writings – the 1870’s.)
OPUS 1: THE APPROACH
“Ahh! The Royal haven in St. Petersburg: The grandness that is its Elizabethan Baroque style with stately ivory columns, glass smooth, far as the eye can see.
“Breathe in, deeply, the sweet perfume of the red rose arbors above porticoes that say ‘vell-come all mine fellow R-r-russians’. From the stately spire of the Palace’s Cathedral – the gloriously tolling bells – hear the herald. It says, ‘Our land is the jewel in the crown of all the world.”
This is how my teacher describes the Winter Palace. Teacher is what Mama and her friends in Moscow call “PHHT! an unapologetic pro-Czarist. One day they will pay a price for ignoring his brutalities.”
Uncle Vanya holds dearly to the same passionate sentiments, though seldom expresses them vehemently as Mama. “The chairs of that grand palace, my dear niece, one day soon Mother Russia’s fine citinzens will surely sit-in-zems.” But I am certain he still gasps in awe whenever he arrives at the grand Palace to undertake his works of ruse for pleasure, profit, and subterfuge.
I see the Palace for the first time as I approach in the glittery-gold horse drawn carriage the Czarevich provides for me. (Protocol says he must arrive with the Czar; so he cannot accompany me.) I wish Papa, Uncle Vanya, or Blackjack Fiction were with me – someone to share the view with, besides the stern-face, black-uniformed guards not allowed to talk (more silly protocol). At least they keep me safe from the Rope Haired Man.
I feel Poppy Sol’s warmth sliding into the seat beside me. He caresses my arm with his beam and glares understandingly at me. ‘I shall share the experience with you, Miss Shelva.’
I smile and say. “Thank you, Poppy Sol.”
The horses whinny their approval. They know who is there. I notice the eyes of the guards move curiously, dumbfounded-ly. Their rigid Cossack imaginations haven’t advanced as far as those of the horses.
Poppy Sol whispers. ‘Describe what you see, in that special way you have, Miss Shelva. So I may repeat it later to Luny Mum. She so loves your imaginings.’
I start, noticing, under the guards’ thick beards, are slight smiles of enjoyment at how I see the Palace: a way their rigid imaginations could never allow them. (How could I know that at this moment I was making friends; ones who would assist me mightily against the Rope Haired Man, very soon?)
“The ivory covered walls: 250 feet long, at least, 100 feet high,” Poppy Sol. “I imagine them as the body of a skinny sea monster floating on the Baltic. This is just how I will describe it to Mama, Poppy. Dust from the rhythmic beat of footsteps against the winding gravel pathways of the lush gardens, of all the pristinely dressed officials, servants, and royal guests coming and going, seem puffs of steam rising from the monster’s head, which is, of course, the glistening, golden onion dome.
“Your own glistening rays, Poppy, they make the endless rows of pillars look to me like, like…massive bones, outside of, the monster’s insatiable carcass.”
I whisper this next part to Poppy Sol, so the guards won’t hear. “As Mama says, ‘the Czar, his edifices, and his Cossack minions feed on the flesh and spirit of the people to sustain themselves. So beware, Shelva, that you are not eaten.’”
‘Indeed, Miss Shelva,’ Poppy alights. ‘Your Mama is a sky full of blusterous thunder about them. Often I’ve observed your Papa warn, “Shh, dearest! The walls and the lampposts have ears. You cannot tell; someone like Shelva’s teacher may be listening”.’
Clip-clop. Along go the horses. We are almost there. Poppy Sol departs, as he must. The Czar would never allow his light be shed on the secret goings on within his walls.
I feel sad my brutter, Ivan could not be seeing everything with me: Poor Ivan, serving his time at the mandatory Youth for Czar Summer camp. Nothing could have stopped that. Mama fought to keep me from making the trip, “Feh! Our daughter needn’t see what transpires in that corrupt haven of…”
“But Mama,” Papa, convinces, against odds great as the owner of Swavorsky’s China Shop in Moscow of trying to convince a raging bull to exit, gracefully. “It is Shelva’s one chance to see the Palace. After all, we the people built it, with the sweat and blood of our hard earned kopeks, no matter who resides there.”
Mama could not argue with that.
OPUS 2: My Grand Entrance – Unescorted?
The carriage stops near a staircase wide as our Moscow house. I have dreaded this moment. I am aware and self-conscious, of almost everything about myself. The buttons of my satin gown make a ‘tap-tap-tap’ sound as they brush against the door as I exit the carriage. The taps are explosions to me. I think all the fine ladies and gentlemen secretively look my way and sneer at my disruption of their pleasant chatter.
The unsmiling guard who helps me down – his hand is rough in mine, but I do not mind, because I feel human touch in alien surroundings. That lasts only seconds, until I am on the stone steps. He lets me go.
I am alone. I remember Papa and Uncle Vanya’s words of encouragement they have so often given me. “You are a beautiful young lady Shelva. Many are the handsome young gentlemen who will desire to dance with you at parties and balls.” Their words, honest and loving as they are meant, cannot ease my fear and I feel I cannot make the long walk up the stairs.
Suddenly from a slightly open window of the Palace, I hear a familiar voice, so loud, that all around me look about for the speaker. “Pyotr! Pyotr! Miss Shelva is here. You must come. Hurry!”
Flying out through the window is Captain Polly, repeatedly squawking, “Pyotr! Pyotr! Hurry.”
She lands on my shoulder. Everyone is looking at us. She puffs her plumage boldly. I follow her example and stand brave, and straight and proud.
“BRAAK! We’ll both have an escort, Shelva. One who makes music – pretty as any feathered flyer.”
I look to the top of the staircase as the bastion doors of the Palace, metallically scream slowly open. Emerging is Pyotyr Illych Tchaikovsky, wearing a deep blue velvet tuxedo. The crowd quiets, and all looks are on him as he traverses the stairs, in what seems to me, the most glorious of minutes anyone has ever spent on this earth. Everyone is watching as he reaches me and takes my hand, and then slides my arm within his.
“Allow me to escort the most beautiful girl in all Russia,” says he.
Slowly, up the stairs, we walk. An eternity. A grand eternity. Each of our steps seems a sway. It feels a never-ending waltz, heaven bound, in the arms of the great Maestro. Even Captain Polly waltzes, from my shoulder to his, back and forth. I glance briefly at her. I realize she too has a partner. She winks at Poppy Sol, as his rays encircle her outstretched wings. They’ve succeeded in their mission, making their Miss Shelva, happy. Now they’re partaking of that enjoyment, and I am so happy they are.
NEXT WEEK: Opus 3 – Tchaikovsky saves my life, in the flesh.
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh