Art Pact 159


We drifted apart in a hotel in Moscow, insulating ourselves by room service from the world outside and by stubborn sullen refusal to communicate from each other. It could have been more dramatic if we'd been looking out over Red Square or some other photogenic relic of the old days, but our window looked over nothing more interesting than the back of another hotel, built under bad advice from some American marketing guru in order to capture the massive influx of tourists. There were plenty of tourists, of course, but no in that area of town. It was almost a suburb, the streets around us packed with soviet-era apartment blocks, almost the least attractive building style in the world - beaten only by english schools built in the style of sixties brutalism.

We tag-teamed the depressing truth, that we were no longer the starry-eyed lovers that we had been in Rome. Each of us in turn would try to dig at the problem, to interrogate the other about what had gone wrong. When it was me asking questions I found Rosalind moody and uncooperative, unwilling it seemed to stretch the slightest sinew in the interest of saving our relationship. Conversely, when she launched her own search for truth I discovered that I had no answers to give her. As she grew more and more earnest in her attempts to divine my mood I reflexively withdrew further and further into my shell, until I realised in one moment that I had spent the previous two hours in rocky silence while her questions battered at me like gusts of wind.

"I think," I said, my voice cracking through under-use. "That we should go for a walk."

"We?"

"We," I repeated. "Or I. Or you. One of us, at least, but perhaps better the two of us. We could both do with some fresh air."

"The air's not fresh out there," she said.

"You know what I mean. Clear the mind. Expand the senses. Allow our eyes to focus on infinity instead of these bloody walls."

She shrugged.

We struggled into our cold-weather clothes, bulky quilted things that we'd bought together in a happier mood. We looked like astronauts, or as if we were dressing for some year-long mission to walk to the poles rather than just two travellers going for a perfectly ordinary stroll in a city in the civilised world. The staff behind the desk tried to draw my attention as we left - no doubt to attempt to warn me that we were probably over-dressed for the prevailing conditions - but I steadfastly avoided their eyes, putting some of the evasion techniques I appeared to have developed over the last few days to an alternative use.

Out on the streets we wandered silently between great apartment blocks and modern-looking office buildings, making our way towards the small park we'd seen when we arrived. We held hands - I don't know if I could say who it was made the first tentative approach. Perhaps neither of us, perhaps it was a simple matter of fortune. At any rate, our hands bumped, or maybe I touched the base of her palm with a finger, maybe she pressed her fingers against mine, and neither of us refused the touch. It was something, but it was not enough. Like two children clasping at each other, desperation rather than any real emotion, but it kept us tethered together as we drifted through the near-empty streets.

In the park, more separation. The streets had kept us together, perhaps, confined, their imperial pressure preventing schism between our two warring powers. We released our hand hold and wandered through the park under the clear skies. It would have been nicer if there were clouds, I suppose, but the weather did not wish to play the third party in our slow-motion train crash, so it remained bright and reasonable - if not exactly warm.

"Where should we go?" Rosalind asked.

"I don't know. Over there?" I pointed to a forlorn bandstand, inhabited by a bundle of rags in the shape of a person - some ancient babushka, no doubt. It looked like the sort of place that was the ideal backdrop for a slow breakup. I wasn't sure whether that attracted me to the idea or put me off. "We could sit down."

Rosalind just looked at me, a strange look. We walked towards the edifice solemnly, not looking at each other. When we reached the bandstand the old woman looked up at us with an irritated expression, said something in Russian which - although I didn't understand the words, clearly contained some sort of unfriendly intent. I wavered, unsure whether to press on in the face of such native resistance or to collapse and leave the surly ancient to her soverign territory.

"Let's go," Rosalind said, tipping the balance. I shook my head, sitting down on the opposite side of the bench. The old woman glared at us again. "Really?"

"Come on," I told her. "We've got just as much right to be here as she has."

"We don't," she pointed out. "I mean, really not."

"Why not?"

"What did you think I meant, when I asked where we should go?" she asked.

"Well, we came here didn't we?"

She sighed.

The old woman made another sally in her native tongue, less vehement than before - perhaps by defying her we had shown a sufficiently Russian attitude towards territorial concerns, and she was softening her stance towards us.

"I meant where next. In the world. Or in"--Rosalind gestured from me to her and back again--"in us. Where, or what. What are we doing here?"

"I don't.." know, I thought. "..understand."

She shook her head, looked away. The old woman, apparently gauging the situation better than I was capable of, stood up and shuffled over to us. She just looked serious now, stiff and awkward, prim and in control of her emotions. Her raw anger of a few minutes ago was hidden again.  She patted me on the hand. Then Rosalind (who jumped in surprise), then finally she shuffled down the cracked wooden steps and left us alone.

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