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from “Song Without Words”

From: New England Review
Volume 33, Number 4, 2013
pp. 160-177 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0022

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Sashenka, this neighbor of ours is a splendid fellow. I went swimming with him this morning and promised to give him some radishes,” Petr Afanasevich informed Sasha, as he came out onto the balcony with his damp towel and wet black hair sticking to either side of his glowing face. “I’m so glad we’ve become acquainted. And he’s a musician; perhaps he’ll play for you someday. You love music.”

Sasha remained quiet and blushed, as if her secret were incriminating. She was not pleased by her husband’s personal acquaintance with this mysterious musician. Why was it necessary? Wouldn’t it be better if her only impression of him were artistic, the one that had brought her so much happiness and solace, rather than the impression of his personality, which might ruin everything? At that very moment their nanny came in with Alyosha and announced:

“Madam, your neighbor has asked to borrow a mill: he has no way to grind his coffee. Can we lend it to him?”

“Mamá, do lend it to him. Yesterday he gave me some chocolate. He’s a nice man.”

Sasha smiled. This magician of music drinks coffee and eats chocolate!

“Of course, Nanny, give him anything he asks for; we always lend our things.”

“By the way, Nanny, I’ll go cut some lettuce and pick some radishes for him; send them to him and find out his first name and patronymic. Tell him that his neighbors send him greetings and invite him to dine with them tomorrow.”

“There’s no need, no need for this friendship,” Sasha hastened to say, impulsively and capriciously, almost in tears. “I’m not seeing anyone, let alone a total stranger.”

“But at one time everyone was a stranger,” Petr Afanasevich said, feeling offended; he was bored at the dacha and very much wanted to make the acquaintance of their neighbor. But he was not in the habit of contradicting his wife and obediently declined to make the acquaintance of the inhabitant of the yellow dacha, adding that there was no reason to fear their neighbor: he was an absolutely decent and tactful man.

Petr Afanasevich went off to harvest his radishes, while Sasha, knowing that there would probably be no music played at that hour, since it was the time when their neighbor usually took his stroll, also went off alone to wander in the nearby grove. She walked for a long time and rejoiced when she arrived at a place she’d never seen before. She began picking bright, fragrant violets, gathered a large bouquet, and then went running down to the spring to rinse the stems. Having descended into the ravine where a bright stream flowed, cutting through it in a straight line, Sasha washed the flowers and with the palm of her hand began scooping up some water to drink. She felt cool and comfortable here and was enjoying her solitude; she sat down and began sorting her violets one at a time, arranging them into a bouquet. The silence was interrupted only by the stream with its monotonous, gentle gurgling. Then she heard some other sound, the pages of a book being turned, and someone’s breathing. . . . There, sitting on a stump, book in his hand, no hat on his head, was the man Sasha recognized as the inhabitant of the yellow dacha. He didn’t hear her; his face was almost melancholy. Sasha didn’t know what to do. Run away—but why? That would be awkward. Stay there—she’d have to start talking and didn’t want to strike up an acquaintance. What to do? But while she was thinking, the stranger stood up, bowed to Sasha, and said:

“So, you also like this spot? It’s not too hot here.”

“This is the first time I’ve come here; I don’t know the local places at all,” Sasha replied, feeling some sort of tremor in her body. “I’m going home now. . . .”

“If you like, we can walk together,” the stranger said simply and calmly.

“Yes. What’s your name?”

“Ivan Ilych. And yours?”

“Aleksandra Alekseevna.”

“Do you like music? You came to...

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