As ordered, I had turned off every light in our 4,512-square-foot Tudor, this time even remembering the chandelier in our grand two-story foyer.
Dmitry wants the house black when I dance outside at night. The better to show me off, I suppose, to our neighbors.
Slowly, muttering “This too shall pass,” I move through the den to our deck, ablaze from a spotlight mounted over the door. I take a deep breath, open the sliding glass door, and step out. It is just before midnight, perhaps too late for our neighbors to spy.
I am tired, but I dance around our deck, in rhythm with the sighing trees, swaying my hips, thrusting my bosom.
Dmitry sits in his wheelchair between two pots of hibiscus. The vodka martini I made for him trembles in his liver-spotted hands.
“Blouse!” he says. His voice is like pudding mixed with gravel. His wet eyes bulge, and he licks his wrinkled lips.
“One button at a time now. Slow down!”
Sometimes Dmitry falls asleep before the blouse comes off. But I know that will not happen tonight.
Tonight he is not tired. He napped most of the day, and I took advantage and watched two movies. Gone with the – an American movie! The characters are flawed but noble. I admire Scarlett, what a warrior she is. I believe I look a little like her, though my hair is brown, not dark red, and my eyes are blue, not green. And I am not so brave or smart as Scarlett. She is a fighter. I am not. Dmitry was still sleeping, so next I watched Land Before Time. I cried when the little long-neck lost his mother. I know what it is like to lose a mother when you are young. I thought when I married Dmitry it would be my chance to be a good mother. And my children would be born in the U.S.! But Dmitry does not want me to service anyone but himself.
At least, like a child, he naps.
Today, I should have worked on my quilts while Dmitry napped. Quilting gives me peace, but it is heaven to watch movies without Dmitry. In the movies, it is where I find the best America. In the movies, even the villains are appealing. Truly, Hannibal Lecter, in Silence of the Lambs, he did not repulse me at all.
For repulsion, I need only look at my husband.
It is repulsing to dance for him.
But I must dance when he orders. I signed many papers before our marriage. Pre-nuptials. A lawyer I had secretly consulted after my doomed pregnancy explained this was America. I was free to leave my husband. But this was America. Leaving my husband would mean leaving his home, his wealth, my security, my path to become an American citizen.
So I dance for Dmitry. Wherever he says. Whenever he asks.
He cannot manage romance anymore, I thank God. Dr. Murashko, his cardiologist, finally convinced him that his heart was too fragile for that, but this dance business takes so much longer that I have been wishing, almost, for the bedroom days. Sometimes I even wish for my simpler, far less abundant life, over 5,000 miles away, in Lithuania.
Lithuanians hate Russians. Who can blame us, given the Soviet invasions and massacres? So, it shocked even me when I accepted the ugly old Russian’s invitation to come back with him to America. He had walked into my aunt’s quilting shop in Vilnius one day, looking to use a toilet. And God help me, when Dmitry flashed his U.S. passport and all his American Express travelers checks, I flirted and smiled and invited him to use our toilet in our apartment over the shop.
Who could blame me? My aunt, my dead father’s sister, was relieved to see me leave. I was 18, and becoming too much a temptation for her husband.
Dmitry had been a U.S. citizen for over 30 years, though he still had a Russian accent. My English was so good – I had worked hard on it – that most people meeting us for the first time thought that I was the real American. And two years after marrying Dmitry, I was. Dmitry had paid a big price to expedite my citizenship.
And I had, too.
Dmitry prefers that I dance on our deck at night, except when it rains. Unfortunately, it rains a lot in Seattle. During rain, I dance inside, in front of the mirror wall in our den, and my skin crawls from the reflection of his eyes on me.
Outside is better. I am not reflected. Dmitry’s eyes are only in his head. Our neighbors cannot see anything unless they happen to look out their top floor windows over the boundaries of young fir and blackberry brambles that separate the homes in our cul-de-sac. And they would need good binoculars or a long-lens camera.
I see little flashes sometimes when I dance outside. They spark from our neighbors to the west, two women named Judith and Melanie, both short-haired and sturdy-legged. Once they asked me to join their softball team, but Dmitry said no.
Our neighbor to the south is a widow who lives with her chauffeur. He is a tall, pale man I encounter nearly every day during my early morning runs. He walks various designer dogs, and his gaze never makes it higher than my jogging bra.
Our neighbor to the east is a bearded ob-gyn guy, lavishly married with three teenage sons. Early in my marriage, this doctor stopped my pregnancy. And he did things so that there would never be any more pregnancies. Dmitry insisted, though I cried and cried. But afterwards, Dmitry paid the money to expedite my citizenship. Now, anytime I see this doctor, I cry a little inside. I saw him just last week in our local bookstore. I had spun around to see who was panting on my neck as I stood in line.
“Hello,” I said. I could feel my face burn as it always did when I saw him. “Nice day, isn’t it?”
“You bet,” he replied. “And it’ll be a fine night, I hope, for viewing heavenly bodies?”
Tonight is also a fine night for viewing heavenly bodies, but I am performing later than usual. Almost midnight on a Wednesday. Our neighbors have jobs or school tomorrow, so they are likely asleep. It is probably only Dmitry’s eyes invading me. My blouse is falling away when my ankle turns. Six inches of Jimmy Choo heel catch in the space between two maple planks. Pain shoots up my leg. Dmitry laughs. I rub my throbbing ankle.
“Brassiere next, and you better be wearing those spangly things.”
Damn! I am not! I forgot them. I hate them. My skin burns when he bites them off. I dread what he will say when he sees I have forgotten to stick them on. I hope he will not make me go back in, press them on, and start the whole obscenity over again.
My fingers shake. I reach the last clasp on my bra. I must let it drop. Dmitry licks his lips, opens his mouth.
Suddenly, the sky lights up. My bra falls as a fireball shocks the night into day.
Terrorist attack? Here?
Am I screaming? My mouth is open, but all I hear is Dmitry gasping. His wheelchair shudders. His vodka drink falls to the deck and shatters. He fumbles with levers, rolls his chair over the broken glass.
Things slam down around us. But they are not bombs or missiles. They are rocks, gray and black rocks. One smashes through the sliding glass doors, ricochets into our den, shatters the mirror wall.
And then, it’s over. Silence, except for the trees sighing and my breath whistling in my ears.
Dmitry clutches his chest. “Pain!” he chokes out. “Pain!”
I grab the wheelchair and roll Dmitry over our cracked and cratered deck. The wheels crunch over the shards of glass that had once been our sliding glass door. Into the den we roll. I flick on the light.
And freeze. A tiny sound like a kitten’s mewl escapes from my throat. Dmitry is yelling, “Wha-wha-wha!” Our Oriental rug is ripped nearly in two, and in the shattered mirror wall, our reflections are sliced into spider webs.
“Fib!” he breathes out. “Get . . . fib!” Then he slumps and topples from his chair to the floor.
I watch him squirm on our ruined rug. Dr. Murashko’s buttery voice echoes: “Every minute that goes by, chances of survival decrease by 10 percent. After 10 minutes, survival is very unlikely. It will take nine minutes for an ambulance to reach Dmitry from the nearest hospital. But only if traffic is ideal.”
So he had written us a prescription for a HeartStart Home Defibrillator, and he personally trained me in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators, a vigorous, unpleasant afternoon of training in our den while upstairs Dmitry napped.
Now, I step over my husband suffering on the ruined rug. It is hard to move quickly in my strappy Jimmy Choos. I prock-prock out the den, down the hall, flicking the lights back on as I go. I climb the stairs to my former quilting room. Now it was cluttered with Dmitry’s massage table, whirlpool, and everything else needed to attend to his health challenges.
My quilting racks and frames are in a smaller room across the hall, without the lovely view of Mt. Rainier.
My hands shake. Who can blame me? At this point, I still did not know that a long-ago collision in a faraway asteroid belt had liberated fragments of asteroids from their ancient prison. I still did not know that one of the freed meteors, the size of a minivan, speeding 10 miles per second for eight million years, had finally crashed through our atmosphere, breaking up into cantaloupe-sized rocks that zoomed down at 120 mph. I still did not know that we were now the owners of fifty pounds of rare gray and black rock, 4.5 billion years old, rock as old as our solar system. And I still did not know that dealers would compete on eBay for their ownership, paying more the $10 a gram.
All I knew was that my husband was going into cardiac arrest, and it was up to me to end the misery.
My legs are slow and wobbly. Who can blame me? But I manage to heft the defibrillator off the shelf. It is no bigger than a stack of DVDs.
But it is heavier. The fib slips from my hands and slams into my beautiful pillowed limestone floor. I’d personally selected that floor for my quilting space. Dmitry had been generous with my spending for a while after my doomed pregnancy. But now its laser-cut border of mosaic tiles is barely visible. My beautiful floor is covered with boxes and crates and shelving jammed with rubber mattress pads, Depends, anti-fungal ointments, latex gloves, pills, and vitamins.
Perhaps the fall has broken the fib. Perhaps it will not work.
I wobble my way back to Dmitry, first stopping briefly in my dressing room to toss on a shirt. I hurry to get the blouse buttoned, then see that two buttonholes at the bottom are left over. The shirt hangs lopsided, so I have to start over, but finally I return to Dmitry.
I kneel by him. He is sweating, and his face is the color of dust. He looks at me. His left eye turns in toward his nose, and I hear the flabby sound of bowels emptying. My stomach lurches. I cover my nose with one hand, and with the other pull the green start handle on the defibrillator.
Dmitry groans. “Faster,” I think he might have said, but the calm voice from the fib’s audio speaker is paced to correspond to real-time actions. Breathing only when I have to, and then only through my mouth, I begin carefully to follow the voice’s instructions.
I unbutton Dmitry’s shirt slowly, as I am accustomed to unbuttoning. I apply two white adhesive pads to his chest, then press the orange button to deliver the electrical jolt. I wonder if perhaps the lithium battery has not survived all my practice runs, but of course I have done nowhere near the 90 shocks it was designed for.
Dmitry flop-dances just like the paddled patients do in the movies. He is dancing for me, like I have danced for him.
The voice prompts me to commence CPR. Instead, I burst into tears. And throw up. Right on our beautiful Oriental rug. But the rug was already ruined. And who could blame me?
No one did.
At Dmitry’s wake, I received many compliments on the beautiful quilt he rested under. I passed out all the business cards – Quilts by Faustina – I had brought.
At Dmitry’s funeral, I was pleased when I saw how glum our nearest neighbors looked.
They hugged me, tight and long, and promised to visit. Soon. All of them. Dr. Murashko too.
But now that I am free, I will lock my door. I will watch movies, quilt, and eventually return to Lithuania. There I will find some badly loved children to rescue and bring back to my beautiful house in the great country of America.
And I will let my lights blaze.