Kirill Finkelshteyn
In a wrong body. The secret life of Nicolai de Raylan.
Moscow: IDRIS publisher.  2021; 416 p. 16+

SECRETARY TO THE RUSSIAN COMMISSIONER AT THE WORLD'S FAIR 

                                                            .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

  

    August 27, 1893

    Yesterday we celebrated Charlie's birthday. Anna, Lulu, and I gathered with the guest of honor in his cramped little room on Madison Avenue. After a couple bottles of champagne, everyone was in a splendid mood. Charlie and I spouted daring witticisms, and our lady friends, in their relaxed state, responded to these with peals of laughter and not a shadow of embarrassment. From the telltale glances passing between the birthday boy and Lulu, it was evident that things had been going well between them for a while now, and only my and Anna's presence was keeping them from acting on their fervent amorous feelings. I was about to bow out and take my sweetheart with me so as not to encroach on the lovers, when suddenly Lulu announced that she urgently needed to step out for a couple hours and hoped that Charlie would keep her company—and casting a conspiratorial glance at Anna, the couple quickly darted out the door before I could react.

    As I frantically tried to think of a way to escape the situation with honor, Anna walked over to the window and drew the curtains in a businesslike manner. Then, while regarding me with a long, piercing gaze, she sat down on the bed, took out her hairpins, and shook her head so her blonde-brown hair fell like a golden tapestry over her shoulders and high bosom. I had never seen my lady friend act so brazen and straightforward before. What happened to the modest girl from an upstanding Jewish family that she'd been mere moments before? All my previous romantic gestures toward her had gone no further than grand pledges, holding hands, and brief kisses; but it was clear that Anna was expecting more decisive action.        Yet I have no need for any passionate embraces and amorous moans. The most important thing for me is not possession of a woman's body, but of her heart and soul. I enjoy the process of conquest itself: a subtle game of truth, half-truth, and fiction. But this time, it seems, I had let the game go too far.

    To break off the long pause, I sat down next to Anna, who was trembling with anticipation. I couldn't shower her with a "golden rain" like Zeus did to Danaë, so I hugged her around the shoulders and began to whisper love poems in her ear—Pushkin ("The Night"), Nadson ("To Love is to Yearn Endlessly"), Apukhtin ("Crazy Nights, Sleepless Nights"), and little verses I composed myself ("Pick that Little Flower and Think of Me"). After twenty minutes of this my poetic reserves were starting to run dry, and Anna was pressing herself closer and closer, to the point that I could feel the rapid beating of her ardent heart from beneath her impressive, corseted bosom.

    I had begun to consider telling some lie about having been struck by a dangerous illness that had made intimacy with a woman temporarily impossible, when suddenly a clap of thunder reverberated outside the window and heavy rain began to drum on the roof. Anna evidently decided that the right moment had come and began to busily unbuttoning her taille, exposing the white corsage below...  Luckily for me, just then came a loud knock at the door. Presently I unlatched it, and Charlie and Lulu burst into the room laughing and soaked to the bone. They apologized profusely for interrupting our time alone, but Lulu, whose health was fragile, needed to change her clothes and get warmed up as soon as possible.

Noticing the undone buttons on Anna's taille and the slightly rumpled bedding, Charlie gave a sly wink and clapped me on the shoulder approvingly, filling my heart with the pride of a Don Juan.