Vaclav and lena, p.8

Vaclav & Lena, page 8


Vaclav & Lena

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  1. World’s worst magician*

  2. Human blockhead

  3. Sword swallower

  4. Ventriloquist

  5. Metamorphosis, illusion, and levitation**

  * The Great Fredini is not the world’s best living magician; that is David Copperfield. He is also not the greatest magician of all time; that is Harry Houdini, who is dead. He is most certainly, also, not the worst. This is a funny act with comedy, and the joke is that he is actually a good magician, and he performs many excellent tricks and illusions.

  ** This is Vaclav’s favorite part.


  The Great Fredini is about seven feet tall and weighs about three hundred pounds, in Vaclav’s estimation. He wears a wide range of costumes, including:

  1. Zebra-striped sequined tailcoat

  2. Tuxedo

  3. Aladdin-like outfit


  1. Sword swallowing

  2. Fire eating


  Heather Holliday wears a few selected costumes, including:

  1. The golden fringed bikini

  * Lena feels that important things to say about Heather Holliday are that she is the youngest sword swallower in the world, that she is lovely, and that she ran away from home because her family is Mormon, which sounds like a bad thing. Also, she has been struck by lightning. That is enough. Lena feels that it is of importance to know that Heather Holliday was struck by lightning, and it is obvious the lightning gave her some magic.**

  ** This is a nice thing for Lena to know because she is waiting for her magic, but Vaclav is already magic because he was born with it. He has had indisputable magic powers since he was only a baby just born, and that is the truth.

  Vaclav looks over the lists, which are of great beauty in Vaclav’s handwriting with pictures by Lena, and one day when Vaclav the Magnificent and his assistant, the Lovely Lena, are very famous magicians selling out more arenas than even David Copperfield, the lists will be sold by an auction like this: “Sold! For one billion American dollars!”

  There are more lists.



  Supplies needed for costumes

  Places to get supplies needed for costumes


  Supplies needed for illusions

  Places to get supplies needed for illusions

  The schedule

  Things to make

  Things to conjure

  Things to levitate

  Things to make disappear

  Things to turn into doves

  Doves to turn into things

  These are the lists.



  To Vaclav it is clear that the first things to plan are the illusions, so he takes the list titled “Illusions” and begins reading it over. On the list are many possible illusions. There is the incredible shrinking girl, the dove-into-quarters trick, and finally, the amazing disappearing-audience trick.

  “Lena, we will practice these three illusions first for the show on the boardwalk. We need, also, I am realize, a list of possible names for the show. I will add ‘Possible Names for the Show on the Boardwalk’ to the list of lists, and then begin a list. The first possible name will be ‘The Coney Island Boardwalk Spectacular,’ and then we will add more and more names. Once we have practice and perfected the three illusions, then I think we will add a disappearing trick and a levitating trick, maybe ending show with disappearing trick. I will make a list that is a list of the order of tricks in the show, and add that list to list of lists.” As Vaclav updates his lists and his lists of lists, Lena creates her own new list.


  Buy gold bikini

  Take gold fabric secret



  Vaclav can read Lena’s list over her shoulder, and he becomes more and more nervous, even more nervous than when Lena first mentioned the golden fringed bikini, that something very bad might happen with Lena and her thinking so much all the time about it. Vaclav thinks again that this is not a thing for Lena to wear, a bikini that has two pieces and no middle piece, but Lena is in love with her idea.

  “Lena, let us first be practicing, and then we will be worry with the costumes,” says Vaclav, and Lena agrees, only because she has already finished her list and is happy with the plan. Vaclav and Lena begin by practicing the disappearing-coin trick, with Vaclav narrating and instructing the patient and fascinated audience to look here and pay close attention there, while Lena assists and plans and perfects the right way to angle her wrists to draw the attention to the right place and away from the wrong place.

  The show is to be secret. They decide that they can probably build the disappearing box in Vaclav’s room and hide it in Vaclav’s closet. Then they will just have to carry it out of the house when Rasia is not looking. Lena agrees with this plan, because one of the things that Heather Holliday does at the Coney Island Sideshow is disappear into the disappearing box, and Lena wants in every way to be just like Heather Holliday.

  Vaclav and Lena practice until very late, because luckily, Rasia falls asleep in front of the TV and does not stop them until it is almost ten o’clock.

  “Lena, your aunt called and she ask me to walk you home,” says Rasia.



  Vaclav knows his mother is lying, and Lena knows that she is lying, and of course Rasia knows, because she is the one who is telling the lie, but everyone pretends that Lena’s aunt really did call, and they are good at pretending, because they pretend every night.

  Lena packs up her bag, happy to put away her homework that is finished and one hundred percent correct for tomorrow, and ties her shoes, while Rasia puts on her loafers. Then Rasia and Lena leave for Lena’s house. At the first intersection, Rasia takes hold of Lena’s hand, only for safety to cross the street, but she does not let go of Lena’s hand for the rest of the walk.

  Each night that Ekaterina does not come for Lena, each time that Ekaterina shows that she is irresponsible, is untrustworthy, is unloving, Rasia is reassured that she has a right to love Lena as much as she does, which is very much.

  Lena climbs the steps one at a time, slowly, to allow Rasia to keep up. She opens the screen door and holds it open for Rasia as she then opens the big heavy front door, and she steps inside the dark apartment. Rasia steps in behind her, mumbling about making sure Lena is safe, that there is no one in the house, that everything is okay. She mumbles this same thing every night she walks Lena home.

  Tonight, Lena turns on the light in the front entrance, and all around Rasia can see that the mess is the same mess as yesterday.

  Rasia waits a minute for Lena to go into the room where she sleeps, which Rasia will never, ever think of as a bedroom, only as a room where Lena sleeps, because it is not a proper bedroom for a little girl, not in the way that Rasia would have decorated a room if Vaclav had been a girl.

  Rasia waits to hear the sounds of Lena getting ready, which are these:

  Sounds of Lena opening and closing drawers

  Sounds of Lena untilting the mattress from where it is tilted against the wall

  Sounds of air scooting out of the way of the mattress so that the mattress can plop to the floor

  Once Rasia has heard all these sounds, she enters the room where Lena sleeps, and without saying anything, she goes to the corner and gets the worn-out felty blanket with silky edges that is peach with yellow blotches, while Lena sits, waiting, on the bed.

  “All right,” says Rasia. “Let’s make this bed.” She has said this every night since the very first night she walked Lena home, which was the day that Lena met Vaclav and saw the golden fringed bikini of Heather Holliday.

  Rasia stands over the mattress and holds the blanket by two cor
ners. Lifting her arms swiftly into the air, she billows the blanket out and over Lena, and then lets it fall softly over the whole bed, even over Lena’s head.

  The first time, she did this because it was the same thing she did to Vaclav every night; it was their bedtime routine. He would climb into bed and lie very still, and she would pretend to not see him, pretend to accidentally make the bed with him inside of it, pretend to be quite aggravated by a mystery lump, and then, finally, tell a bedtime story in the hopes that it might somehow make the stubborn lump go away.

  The first night, Rasia did to Lena exactly what she did to Vaclav because she did not know what else to do, having waited for someone to pick the girl up; having decided, finally, to take the girl home; having waited too long for Ekaterina to answer the ringing doorbell; having taken too long to finally see the dread and shame on the girl’s face; having paused too long in the entranceway, staring too long at the overflowing ashtrays, the sharp edges on the glass coffee table, the clothes flung over everything. She felt frozen, and she did not know what to do, and so she did the only thing she knew. Rasia told Lena to get into bed. Lena, following orders, marched straight into her bedroom. Rasia followed her. The room was empty except for a bare mattress on the floor. Rasia stood staring until she realized that Lena was waiting anxiously for her to leave the room so that she could undress and put on her pajamas.

  Rasia waited in the hallway for a few minutes, and then she returned, saying, “Go lie on the bed,” and Lena did, and then she pretended to not know Lena was there.

  During the bedtime routine, Lena didn’t giggle as Vaclav did when Rasia said, “Let’s make this bed” or “Where in the world did this lump come from?” Lena seemed to submit to and welcome the ritual but did not ever smile. Still, Rasia had never considered altering or omitting one tiny word or gesture from the routine.

  This night, Rasia played the game with Lena because it was what she had done each night for five years. So she went about her futile attempts to flatten the lump, pulling the blanket tighter, smoothing the blanket next to, over, and around the lump, and then said, “Okay, lump. You are winning. Let’s have a story. If you can’t get rid of something, or someone, you should always tell long, boring story, to make it go away.”



  Rasia sits on the foot of Lena’s bed, which is really just Lena’s mattress on the floor.

  “Okay, so here is the story.” Rasia tells Lena her bedtime story in Russian, even though at all other times Russian is strictly forbidden. Rasia does this for Lena, so that she will not have to struggle to understand, but she does it for herself too.

  “Once upon a time in the faraway land called Moscow, there lived a princess. Just so you know, in case you have heard things, Moscow today is very different from how it was then, once upon a time. The Moscow in this story is beautiful. The Moscow in this story is not full of breadlines, just people buying fresh bread from the baker down the street with real money, not money worth less than the paper it is printed on. In Moscow, once upon a time, you could walk down the street without going by a man sitting in the gutter, yelling at you as you walk by and showing you the fingers he lost in the gulag.

  “Okay, so where are we? There is a princess, and this princess, she likes wandering around the markets, dressed in a ratty shmata and some ugly pants like a peasant, because like most princesses in a story, she sometimes hated to be a princess, and she didn’t know how lucky she was. She liked to pretend that she was not a princess, because it made her feel like a normal girl.

  “One nice sunny day, she was wandering around the market, and she bumped into a boy. Really, she was so busy staring at the blind old lady selling boiled eggs out of a bucket, because she was appalled that anyone would buy eggs that the old woman had touched with her dirty, knobby fingers, that she walked right into this boy. She fell, and there was a horse and cart coming by just at that moment, and it almost went right over her head and smashed it like a melon, but the boy, he grabbed her hand and pulled her to him and saved her life. Of course, she fainted in his arms.

  “When the princess woke up, the boy was kneeling over her, with his face right almost touching her nose, and she was afraid of him for one second, and the next second she wondered what his name was, and the next second she wondered everything about him, and the next second she was terrified that he would go away forever and that she might lose him. She was in love with him, plus he had just saved her life. He was in love with her already, because she was a princess, even though he didn’t know she was a princess. This is how it always is with princesses, boys love them for no reason.

  “Next the princess and the boy did what everyone does when they fall in love: They sat in some crummy place, on some buckets turned over in a cold alley by the market, something like that, and they didn’t care that they were hungry and that they were thirsty and that they were tired, and that their mothers were wondering where they were, and they told each other everything that they had ever known and everything they liked and everything they didn’t like, and all of their favorite colors and books, and what kind of rain was their favorite, sprinkles or downpours.

  “And then the princess told the boy that she was a princess, and he told her what she already knew from his raggy clothing: that he was a peasant.

  “She told him, with tears coming out of her eyes, that she had to go back to the castle.

  “She told him, with her stomach twisted into terrible knots, that they could not see each other, that her father, who was a nasty old king, would not allow it.

  “He told her, ‘Don’t worry. We will run away together.’

  “She was confused, because she loved him, but she also really, actually loved being a princess, and she loved her mother and her sisters, and she had never lived anywhere but the castle, and she was not sure if she could really run away forever.

  “He told her she could have some time to think about it.

  “He told her that every night for one hundred nights he would stand outside her window, at the foot of the castle, and wait for her, and that if she came out on one of those one hundred nights, they would run away together. If, after one hundred nights of waiting, she did not come out, he would have his answer, and he would leave her alone.

  “She went back to the castle. That night, he waited at her window.

  “She did not come.

  “The next night, he waited at her window.

  “She did not come.

  “Every night, for ninety-nine nights, he waited, sitting like a bug outside her window, and she did not come.

  “On the one-hundredth night, the last night, he did not wait outside her window, because he could not bear to know that the princess would never be his, that she did not love him enough, not as much as he loved her. He thought maybe it was better to not know.

  “On that hundredth night, the night that he did not wait outside her window …”

  Lena interrupts the story with a mighty snore from beneath the blankets. The snore startles Rasia, who has been so absorbed by her storytelling that she has failed to notice that Lena is already asleep.



  Rasia sits for several minutes, watching Lena sleep, watching her back rise and fall, watching her mouth make the small baby movements that our mouths remember only when we are asleep. She feels a need to watch Vaclav when he is asleep, and she knows there is no one who feels the same about Lena.

  After she has watched Lena sleep for several minutes, she stands up, walks carefully to the door, and turns out the light.

  In the kitchen, flies are swarming around the dishes in the sink, little tiny fruit flies. She thinks of Lena, who might wake up in the middle of the night and want a drink of water, and who might find no clean cups and no way to fill up a clean glass of water. She finds, under the sink, a bottle of Ajax with a little yellow squirt left. She fills the sink with hot, soapy water and washes dishes until none are left.<
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  She picks old cigarette butts out of the drain and throws them away, and wipes down the sink until it shines.

  On the counter next to the sink there is a dish rack, and there are little spots of black mold in its joints and creases. Rasia cleans the dish rack until the mold is gone.

  When the dishes are dry, there is nowhere to put them away, because the shelves in the cabinets are dusty and sticky and covered in spills, so with her wet sponge, Rasia wipes down all the cabinets.

  The kitchen is clean (not as clean as her own, but much improved), but if Lena gets up in the middle of the night, she might trip over the clothes on the floor on the way to the kitchen. She might trip and bump her knees on the coffee table. She might knock over one of the ashtrays that is full of cigarette butts and matches and gum. She might step on one of the pizza boxes that are on the floor, full of bits of moldy pizza cheese.

  Lena might, walking sleepily to the kitchen, step on one of the empty bottles of Stolichnaya that are lying about on the floor.

  Rasia empties the ashtrays; she takes the bottles out to the blue recycling bin on the sidewalk; she takes the pizza boxes out to the trash. She washes the ashtrays. She throws away the fast-food drink cups that are crowding the table, the hamburger wrappers, the Diet Coke cans.

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