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Ash and Bea

by A. T. J. Cember

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

part 2

The two looked at each other and, in tacit concordance, agreed in the space between their eyes that it was time for a break. They squatted on a nearby boulder that seemed sculpted for the express purpose.

“Open it!” Bea was a little more prone to excitement than her companion.

Preface, the first page said, July 23, 2022.

“Whoa, that was only a few months ago,” Ash murmured, and turned the page.

Bea: Are you there?

Ash: Hey

Bea: First random thing: your recording was the first Scriabin I found on my iPod at the time; it was listened to at his grave.

Second random thing: I’m in a pseudo-existent shadow relationship with this guy who’s a writer. It’s like Master and Margarita but completely oblique and unreal.

Ash: Oh... I didn’t know I was a critical element of such a mystical process... Do you mean the 3rd sonata?

Bea: No, the etude. And, yes, you were, that’s why I wanted to tell you. It was quite dramatic, actually.

Ash: Which etude? I don’t think I’ve recorded any.

Bea: 8th, is it?

Ash: Hmm... I’ve never played or recorded any Scriabin etudes, so it must have been another pianist.

Bea: No, it was you; I’m confusing my numbering here. Hold on...

There was a link.

“What the hell?”

Bea explained, unable to tell whether or not Ash recognized the text: “This is a conversation we had online over the summer...”

“Yeah, I know. Just how the hell did it end up here?” Ash closed the book again and looked at its cover. It was nothing but a blank expanse of red; likewise, the inside front and back pages were pure ivory. Except for one tiny black printing in the inside, bottom right hardcover edge: Google Archives, it said, followed by a long serial number. That shouldn’t have really explained anything, but for now, they were satisfied.

Ash returned to the page, and they read through it as if it were a play, each reading the lines which on July 23rd, they had typed. Bea thought it was interesting how this was in fact the first time that these words had been spoken out loud.

Ash: Yeah, this one is not in my repertoire yet but should be shortly ;)

Bea: You played it for me once!

Ash: That’s impossible, dear. Then again, in this mystical world, I guess anything is possible.

Bea: I’m convinced! Well, you know what? I was certain it was you playing at that time, so I suppose that’s all that matters, isn’t it? But let me tell you the whole story. So there I was, a teary mess, and I happened to be at Novodevichy Convent. I didn’t have a lot of time, and there were hundreds and hundreds of graves in this barely-organized, overgrown labyrinth which I was pacing through like a madwoman.

I found Scriabin’s, which I didn’t think I would ever find. This is too much, and I sort of collapsed there. And then, after a few minutes, I had the idea to listen to him. So there I was in this absurd mood, and very convinced I was listening to none other than you play the etude... strange, stormy weather, everything eerily quiet.

Ash: Ah yes, Russia is a spiritual land.

Bea: Well, not quite like Kiev, but yes :)

Ash: These experiences are simply not a part of this side of the Atlantic.

Bea: No, no, they are not... Well, no, I can’t say that. Things like that have happened to me in America once or twice.

Ash: I’m really angry at my family for moving. In fact to be honest, I feel it’s a grudge I will always carry. It was my destiny, or supposed to be at least, to grow up there and soak up that air. But I was robbed of it. And I’ve never felt it as keenly as during this slow, tepid, supremely uninspiring summer.

Bea: I’m so sorry, tell me more...

Ash: Boredom and desensitization are extremely important elements of the human experience, but they make for terrible storytelling.

Bea: Well, you could be in the absurd situation that I am in, living in a high-security gated community 20 kilometers north of downtown Moscow with a bunch of rich Russians and other diplomats.

Ash: I’d rather be... That sounds interesting.

Bea: It is, sort of. But this whole Foreign Service thing is not for me. If you and I were here together, maybe it would be interesting. As is... meh.

Ash: What about your writer?

Bea: Oh boy. Vladislav. Well, I’m going to preface this story with the fact that nothing has ever “happened” between us. I’m not cheating on my boyfriend, and for once in my life, I don’t intend to, because I’m actually in love with him.

This being said, before I even met boyfriend, I met this guy Vlad. This was last summer, actually. We were sort of set up by this mutual friend. That first evening, we walked and talked for about five hours, and I thought my world was revolutionized. I mean, absolutely unreal: we’re on a first date and this guy is reciting Italian poetry for me by a canal?

Something happened. I don’t know what, but I was fairly spellbound for most of the fall, although I had met this person all of once. We wrote to each other. A lot. I translated his stories. We argued about philosophy. But mostly we agreed, about everything, in the most florid and poetic manner possible.

Ash: Hey, do you have Skype?

Bea: Yeah, actually, but it may or may not work nicely. Do you want to try?

Ash: Nah, never mind. We seem to communicate better in writing anyway.

Bea: Yes, I’ve noticed, and it’s puzzled me for years. Anyway...

Bea laughed gently and continued reading.

So all of this is lovely, my life is wonderful, but slowly it becomes clear to me that Vlad is not in love with me.This turned out to be not an utter psychological disaster, because by this time I had met Victor, which is a whole other story.

But here I am again, in Moscow, not even entirely by choice. Vlad texts me, we meet up on Stariy Arbat at around midnight. And for the first time ever — after I have somewhat dramatically confessed that I am in love with someone else! — he seems attached to me, affectionate. He says things like, “When I meet her, I’ll know within the first hour.”

(Me: thank God, he doesn’t think I’m ‘her’; other part of me: how am I not her?) Hence... identity crisis? Maybe this is all too incoherent to be understood... in which case, forgive me.

Ash: Wait,.. First of all, let me say something, and this may only be coming from the context of the pretty terrible summer I’m having, and I don’t want you to perceive it as romantic, because it’s not. But I really, really miss you, Bea.

And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never rated you before: I did not think you were physically attractive, and mostly labeled you as that awkward box of snobby intellectual clichés. But now I have a very real desire to be serious friends with you and can’t wait to see you when you get back.

Bea could hear Ash’s heart beating inside his chest. Was he embarrassed? Or what? She wasn’t sure, so she kept reading.

Bea: First of all, I miss you, too, and I feel incredibly thankful right now... for what, exactly, I’m not sure.

Ash: I guess you’re digesting all that...

Bea: Also — and I’m saying this with shame — I’m not as snobby as that. In high school I was largely faking it, because I wanted to agree with you, or whatever I thought you were. Which is probably even worse.

Ash: Whoa. So I don’t really know how to react to your story, after unearthing our own little drama.

Especially since I’m short on information, especially regarding these other two guys. With regard to this Vlad...Meh, he might mean well, he might not, he might be genuine, he might not be... What’s most likely is he himself doesn’t really know what’s going on. So, yes, I guess identity crisis.

Bea: Yes, I think so, too. I guess I’m just... confessing. To the fact that I’m giving something up that looks, in some abstract way, like the right thing to do, from my younger self’s standards.

Ash: As for Italian poetry by a canal... I’d stay away from that kind of stuff. It is very cliché, you would have to agree. And guys know that. He may very well rehearse it before dates, and read the same poems with same intonation to different girls. But then again, I wasn’t there, so I wouldn’t know. Just had to put my suspicions out there, but maybe I’m just being cynical.

Bea: Maybe just a tad, but it’s oddly comforting.

Ash: But tell me, Bea: do you really find truth, something deep and inspiring in having Italian poetry read to you by a canal? You don’t even speak Italian.

Bea: Oh come on, you don’t understand the context of that particular example! We were having a conversation about Dante..

But I don’t know. Things that are true and deep and inspiring tend to hit me over the head before I know what’s coming and then drive me to despair. I guess you’re probably right.

Ash: Well, as I said, I’m short on facts. So I’m really kind of groping in the dark, especially after having “rediscovered” you from a few lines of chat, after not having thought about you for about a year. This is all kind of strange and Scriabinesque.

Bea: Yes, cosmically beautiful and enigmatic...No, I have things straight. You have pointed out where I have been silly, and that helps. Because I realized earlier on my own that Victor is my real life, and this... just one last rather adolescent flight of fancy.

And, yes, despite this little blip on the screen that I’ve informed you of, I’m actually... happy. It’s rather novel. Blissful. But still a bit frightening, I guess.

Ash: Well, I’m happy for you. As Anton liked to say, “Point of life = happy.”

Bea: Oh, Anton the wise.

Ash: You know, it’s so simple, but indeed so damn wise! And I give him credit for that. But for very little else, haha.

Bea: I’m aware :)

Ash: I hope you’re not suicidal though?

Bea: Good lord, no. I’m being genuine about being happy, you know. And yourself? Anything stewing besides varying flavors of boredom? Malaise? Ennui?

Ash: I don’t know... My brain works in strange ways at times. I have this addiction to the sometimes harmful futility of attempting to apply logic to emotion, as well as unbearable self-awareness. These are the two things that are kind of eating me right now.

Bea: Well, I suppose two questions pose themselves: (1) What emotions are requiring attempted taming by logic? (2) Why is self-awareness so unbearable?

Ash: 1) Love, the desire to do good, the desire to become unconsciously good.

2) Because you’re always with someone wretched and unsatisfactory.

Bea: “With” meaning what? Sitting beside, conversing with, making love to?

Ash: With, as in you’re with yourself 24/7, you know the whole ego-superego thing.

Bea: Ah, you mean yourself... Do you ever feel this consuming, almost desperate love for everything in the world, and then despair, because you can’t help everyone, and there will be pain and suffering no matter how much compassion you may feel? Maybe this is not at all what you are talking about, but I feel this way sometimes.

Ash: No, this is not what I mean. I’d like to be able to love even a little bit, I’d be happy with that.

Bea: And you can’t?

Ash: i don’t know, it doesn’t appear so.

Bea: You mean, a girl? Or anyone, everyone?

Ash: Anyone and anything.

Bea: I’m still confused: is the issue that there aren’t people you love, or that you seek to love everyone, and don’t?

Ash: Hey, sorry, Bea, I have to go now. But I’ll get back to you on this.

Bea: OK :)

There was a blank page, which Ash turned.

“I guess the preface is over,” observed Bea, not knowing what else to say.

* * *

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2014 by A. T. J. Cember

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