How will it be?
June 29, 2020—February 22, 2021
The window must be cleaned. In particular, the windowsill deserves close attention. It’s been over a year since a rag has touched this area of the house and who knows how much dirt has accumulated there. Cleaning a window was not an issue five years ago, when Nina Georgievna was eighty. At the time she could still see contours of objects relatively well. Indeed, she could clean two windows in the same day. But five years have passed. Nina Georgievna’s eyesight has worsened considerably, especially during the last winter. The doctors diagnosed cataracts and recommended surgery. Even two surgeries, in fact, because there are two eyes. Nina Georgievna’s daughter, Katia, helped with money and the doctors did their best. But either because the condition was already so grave, or just because the operations could have been done better, Nina Georgievna’s eyesight did not improve, but worsened. Even so, she regretted not so much the deterioration of her health but the money spent. “I only wasted Katia’s money!” she would say.
The flat should stay clean. It is shameful to have a dirty flat, even if nobody visits you. In a way, the physical tidiness connects to the moral notion of being a good person. A good person cannot live in an unkempt apartment. Lately though, Nina Georgievna has started to become lazier due to her health problems and old age. Now cleaning is something the old woman performs partly out of habit, but mostly because it is “an activity.” To clean one has to move, and to move means to live. The obligation to keep the flat clean is both a nuisance the babushka grumbles about from time to time and a vital stimulus. When one’s whole life has been spent working, caring, and worrying about others, can it be different now? Katia said once, “Mom, you have to enjoy your life!” to which Nina Georgievna answered “Enjoyment? Don’t talk nonsense.”
Outside the window, there is a warm September day. One of those days that admit that summer has ended but, as a consolation prize, give you the warm light that cannot burn and cannot blind. This light falls softly and gently, even meekly. The frail sibling of the white summer light seems to exist only to enhance the ambience of the melancholic autumn season when even people who are normally not inclined to think about the passage of time tilt their heads ever so slightly while sitting on their balconies and something akin to a hint of nostalgia creeps in their eyes. Nostalgia for what? For the summer that is to return again but never in the same form? For the loving hand that once was so close, warm, kind and kindred? The hand that wasn’t going away, but it did.
The light and the nostalgia are invited. They come through the window frame, through the stalks and the leaves of the plants on the windowsill. Not diminished but enhanced, the light reaches Nina Georgievna’s eyes and melts there on her depleted retinas forming smooth shapes that grade into each other and that layer on top of one another and that are of no help. The blurry contours suggest positions of things, evoke memories, direct movements, often mislead. On top of this, there is a formation of fixed specks and lines that always follow eye movements slowly and fastidiously as if floating in water.
One by one the plants are moved from the windowsill to the table. Now the window radiates light openly, but the autumn light is shy. Outside, the clouds pass before the sun and the light grows weaker and stronger, undulates, plays hide and seek with the people below. It is so silent today.
How to tell if something is clean if you cannot see? Over time Nina Georgievna has adopted a sort of circular probing motion of hand that serves detection of dirt, or rather detection of any deviation from smoothness. A defect found in this way provokes astonishment, a frown, scrutiny, and finally calls for all sorts of wiping and cleaning efforts that are applied assiduously and with remarkable vigor. But despite all the dedication of Nina Georgievna the defiant world of the visual remains mostly unconquered. Many times when the desired degree of smoothness is achieved, scratches and stains are achieved as well, making the surfaces and objects look even worse than before cleaning.
In the meantime, the frame and the windowsill have been groped, washed, and wiped. It is time to move the plants back. The first and the second pot fly to their positions without problems, but the third pot touches a plant, tugs it, and the plant ends up on the floor. This is an unforeseen deviation from the original plan. Nina Georgievna feels with her feet that she is walking on soil now. Exactly at this moment, when she happens to be so vulnerable and busy estimating the extent of the disaster, her neighbor Alevtina Fedorovna comes to pay a visit. She is younger, being only sixty years old, and is entrusted with the mission of helping Nina Georgievna for a small remuneration from Katia. Because of that mission, the neighbor has the keys.
“What is going on here? What is this mess?” Alevtina Fedorovna asks. Her mouth and eyes widen. “Just look at it! The floor is all covered with soil! And of course it is for me to clean it now. Thank you very much Nina Georgievna!”
Nina Georgievna stands silent from guilt like a child who has played an unfortunate trick. She is ordered to sit still by Alevtina Fedorovna who indeed cleans the floor and puts all the flowers back on the windowsill. She then prepares the dinner. The helpful neighbor talks about her son who has a good job and is about to marry a good girl. He will soon come to visit Alevtina Fedorovna. And the wedding! Think of it, it is such a happy time.
How will it be when Katia comes? She will come by plane from a different city. She will come for no other reason but to see Nina Georgievna. She will come to gift the old woman a morsel of time. Katia will come with a hug. The kind of hug that is revealed like a birthday present. Katia will come with a kiss. The one that can fold time. In the apex of the kiss there is a little oasis that anchors the feeling which is to outlive parting.
Television is one of the treats that Nina Georgievna still enjoys. These days there are many channels and many programs: films, talk shows, serials. Diversity is good, yet most people tend to stick to their favorites. Nina Georgievna has chosen a series about a detective agency. A few times she tried to find something different but the effort of diversifying her TV diet faced a purely technical problem. The series destined to become Nina Georgievna’s personal favorite started to be aired about ten years ago. Every evening she’d watch the show and as years passed and her eyesight ebbed, she still could follow new episodes because she knew the way plot typically developed and recognized every character by voice. With other content it gradually became impossible: unfamiliar voices and strange situations would quickly confuse the babushka and she’d sit for minutes listening to the dialogues without any idea of what would be going on.
Old age appreciates stability and life sometimes provides it. With respect to the TV series in question the stability has been ample. Every evening TV viewers can be completely sure of meeting with their favorite detectives, criminologists, and scientists. In fact, in the rare cases when there are changes in the program, Nina Georgievna meets them with an audible indication of displeasure. She considers her evening ruined and has to employ substitutes, none of which is as good and as familiar as the original series she waits for.
In the room, there is an ambient gloom. An uninvited tenant, it returns every night slightly intoxicated. The bright screen of the TV set cuts through the darkness and the boredom of the evening efficiently and artificially. The big all-embracing shadow of the night is displaced by the magical light which, alas, cannot prevail fully. Instead, it gives birth to lesser and sharper shadows which feigningly obey the action on the screen and move in perfect coordination with it. The sound is made from bricks. Familiar intonations, questions countered by answers, hypotheses that lug fussy action scenes—they all are impregnated with a single production style and inexorable continuity rimmed by an alternation of five or so musical themes. The bricks seem to be perfectly arranged, skillfully shuffled, so as to hide their paucity.
At last, the episode ends and the TV set is turned off. In the sudden silence, in the contrast between action and emptiness, in the absolute darkness that finally quenches the light, Nina Georgievna feels a palpable presence that drains and reduces her. The black press of life that remained for the whole day in the background now comes to the fore. Long lonely minutes pass. Nina Georgievna’s thoughts flee from the dark empty room and fall into familiar crevices where they stray in circles. At the end of this maze there is sleep. Tomorrow will be a new day.