I remember the river. Saint Petersburg is always beautiful to the tourists, but to me, a student of history, it was very much more--a place where the dreams of olden days came forward in a slow, shuffling dance of architecture and street names and the faces of passersby. It was late December, and the snow fell quietly, not disturbing anyone except perhaps the children, whose only disturbance was in laughing at the wonder of the thing though they'd seen the same the winter before. The adults, breath steaming, thought of their business and hurried on about it with purpose and teeming single-mindedness. I took to standing there on the bridge that spans the Neva.
Does he know?
I'd like to say that I sketched, but in truth I doodled, drawing random lines this way and that across the pages of my notebook--it at least gave me a reason to be there if anyone asked. I am not a good artist, to my everlasting regret. But I did come up with some few decent images, and in an even fewer number I'd almost caught the glint of that bright European sun (so different somehow from that in the lower latitudes of my homeland) off the snow-clad trees and the frozen line of the river. It was the river I tried over and over to draw correctly, but either my sense of proportion would be wrong, or I'd just get the wrong shape, or something else would happen; and so more often than not, I'd turn to the next page and start anew on something else.
I don't think so. Look at him--he's almost totally entranced. Is she--can she still be here after so long? Or is it some other remnant?
It seemed to me that if I could only draw the river as it was, bridge and trees notwithstanding, I'd be the recipient of some secret knowledge, the unraveller of some great mystery. Day after day I went to my little spot, although every day it did seem a bit colder. Ah, well, the Russian winter is legendary for its frigid cruelty, so that's hardly surprising.
I think she's still there. She always was devious in her beauty. It could be someone else, of course. But if she's abandoned herself like that, it would mean she's really and truly gone, in every sense of the word. I'd like to think I'd have at least had some intimation if that were the case.
I dreamt last night of a tall girl in white. She seemed almost translucent, as though she had faded from reality. And so familiar! I can see her face even now in my mind's eye. I could draw her from memory alone, but it was so hard to get out of bed this morning even to get my sketchpad, so I've let it lie. I feel certain that one day will make no difference, that I will remember her just as clearly. Before I'd fully woken up, it seemed like the dream was a memory of someone I'd once loved, but she's no one I've ever met--and I say it regretfully, for she was beautiful. Not someone I would forget.
Definitely her, it looks like. Should we--do something?
I'll just stay in bed today, I think. I feel a bit under the weather--no surprise, outside it looks a blizzard. No dreams that I remember, just waking with a sense of falling, of going down.
Why would we?
I went back out to my spot today. I didn't bring the sketchbook. I'm not even sure why I'm here, really, just came from the habit of the past few weeks. The river is just as I remember it--still frozen. In a few days the Metropolitan will come out to bless the river and they'll cut a hole in the ice. It's so cold today. Much more so now than it seemed even on the walk over. I think I'll just sit down here against the side of the bridge, and huddle up for the warmth. Make as much warmth as I can. Just sit down and rest. Cold. I remember . . . the river. Just . . . rest. Oh, hello. I know you.