The Seduction of Sergie

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Coming to grips with the new Russia

The Seduction of Sergie

2014

It is stated that there are many things which must be learned to understand life. To speak of life, one needs  the tools, the fundamentals to communicate.  Her world was one of academic mishnah. The litany of languages was her shas. She rolled from English to Spanish, from German to Italian, from her native Ukrainian to Russian. In her small apartment on Nivsky Prospect, books spilled from the shelves, strewn about the floor, stacked haphazardly on desks and table tops. Beside her favorite chair, with its carefully positioned reading lamp, piles of books were precariously stacked. Various colours of tabs protruded from the pages, testifying to her research, her absorption.

Sofia was a tall girl. A half dozen centimeters short of 2 meters. She was lean, some would say borderline anorexic. That prospect was immediately destroyed when you saw her eat. Food to her was a hedonistic pleasure and she devoured whatever was offered. She prided herself on her culinary courage, having sampled such exotic delicacies as scorpion pickled in vodka, raw eel, even seal blubber during one field trip she went on to the arctic to explore central Siberian Yupik.

Now, late in the afternoon, she sat sprawled on the comfy leather reading chair, a sandwich held high in one hand with the elbow on the arm of the chair. She had a copy of Noam Chomsky’s “Aspects in the Theory of Syntax” propped open on her lap. As her eyes scanned the pages, she slowly, almost absently, chewed upon her sandwich. Ham and cheese.

Outside, the light was imperceptibly changing as the sun moved somewhat slowly around the sky. St. Petersburg in June does not really get dark as the day wears on. When darkness falls in the south, twilight descends upon Piter, confusing the circadian rhythms and invigorating the nightlife.

Chomsky was starting to bore her, so she put the book down and nibbled at the sandwich. The apartment was quiet, barely a whisper of noise drifted up from the street. An antique clock, her only truly valuable possession, ticked away on the fake mantel. It was caricature of a crow, whose closed wings rose above its head as if it were shrugging. Sitting upon its beak were a set of brass pince nez eyeglasses.  In its beak it held a chain, that dangled on one side, and at the other end terminated in a brass clock. Each of its taloned feet had a different brass ring. A surrealistic piece that her Grandfather had given her when she graduated with her first degree from the polytechnic.

Looking at it, she thought about what to do that evening. She made a decision.

She reached on the table and plucked her cell phone from a stack of books.

“Call Sergie” she told the phone.

The screen flipped to a picture of an older man. His wild, full head of hair was flecked with grey. It looked like it had not seen a comb in decades. Bushy eyebrows overhung his dropping and sad eyes, though there was a smile on his lined and weathered face. It was the face of a wise man, a world weary and thoughtful man. A face that would look normal behind a lectern,  speaking profound and important things. It was Sergie’s face.

The phone answered after 2 rings. “Hello Sophie”. His voice was deep and sonorous. Smooth, used to speaking. Commanding and authoritative

“Hi Sergie, I was wondering what you are doing tonight” Sophie asked playfully, tilting her head back as she talked, flicking her long straw coloured hair. “I am sitting here bored of reading Chomsky like you told me to. Now I want to do something”.

There was a short pause. “Sophie, you are too smart for your own good” there was a small chuckle, “What do you mean when you want to do something?”

She wiggled about and ended up sitting crosslegged on the chair “You know, something, anything. I’ve been cooped up here plowing through this syntactic shit for 2 days. I am tired of eating sandwiches. I want you to take me to a nice restaurant, feed me some fabulous food and buy me some wine. Red, Italian, and lots of it”.

Sergie sighed into the phone, “My dear, I would love to, but I am in the middle of marking a bunch of papers from brain dead first years. It is trying my patience and I swear I my IQ goes down 2 points with every one of these things I am forced to read. I want to get them done tonight.”

Sophie used her pouty face, the phone made Sergie immune, so she had to resort to logic. “I can help you mark them. I’ll come over, we can get them done in half the time and then go out.” She knew she could grade the papers. She had been Sergie’s graduate student for 2 years now as she worked on her PhD. Sergie was her thesis master. She was a teaching assistant for him and also worked as his research assistant for some of Sergie’s own work. She was mentioned as a contributor to at least a dozen of his published works.

In his office, Sergie swiveled his chair and gazed out the window. From his 3rd floor office in the Imperial Academy of Arts, he looked out over the University Embankment, across the Neva, to the Nikolayevsky Palace on the other side. On his huge carved desk his Apple sat, a paper from a student splashed on the screen. It was hideous. There was no structure to the argument. There was no building upon assumptions; there was no referring back to the original statement. The only thing it had going for it was the perfect grammar and spelling. At least that was something. But Sergie would take bad spelling and grammar for a sound argument any day. It was the thought put in that counted, not the way it was represented. Brilliance should not be diminished due to body odour or bad fashion or unpopular ideas – or bad spelling. But a lazy mind should not be rewarded simply because they are diligent with their spell checking. He sighed again and gave it a C minus.

“You would not believe the crap I am looking at” he said.

“Oh yes I would. I’ve seen what some of those clowns have written in the past”. And she had of course. But Sophie was less liberal with her comments and marking. More than once Sergie had had to polish some of her marks and grades in order to prevent yet another 1st year suicide.

 

In order to get to the Sergie’s office from Sophie’s place, she needed to take a subway. Torgovanov’s harebrained scheme had finally come to fruition, though it took a century.

 

2006

Sophie had just got off the number 6 Tram. September can be a cruel month this far north. The sun can shine brilliantly, but the wind off of the Baltic or from the north can chill you to the bone in a matter of moments. She was dressed for the chill. A simple lined leather coat that went down to her hips, blue jeans, sensible and comfortable shoes. She was not out to make fashion statements. She wanted to complete her enrollment and finalize her classes.

As she neared the university, the throngs of young people grew larger and larger. This was admission week. Everyone would be coming down with their paperwork, their money, their last minute changes. The admissions hall was awash with preppy young girls, tattooed guys, tattooed girls, those who looked like vagrants, and those who wanted to look like vagrants. Everyone had a backpack. Clutches formed and dropped, cross-legged to the floor, causing clots in the flow. Some were pushing their bikes through the crowds, oblivious to the fact that there was hardly enough room for people to move about, let alone bicycles.

She scanned the signs above the kiosk windows, looking for the Philosophy department. She found it and her heart sank when she saw the line crawling from the booth. Resigning herself to her fate, she queued up and started to wait.

As each student finished dealing with the academic administrator at the window, the line stumbled ahead. It did so in spurts. Clutches of 1st years huddled together and at the invisible demarcation point between the line and kiosk, one would calf off with a flurry of papers, go to the window and be processed. Sofie was bored so she timed it. Five minutes per person. Then  she counted how many were in front of her – 24. At least 120 minutes – 2 hours – of waiting. She resigned herself to her fate and did as all the others, pulled out her phone and started emailing and texting.

She texted Anna, her dearest friend, who was somewhere else in this massive hall. Anna was registering for computer science. The lineup there, according to Anna, was so long that it had to take the form of a snake to accommodate all the people. Sophie poked her head up to see if she could find this snake. It was impossible. It was a mob.

It was a great relief when Sophie found out that Anna would also be going to the university in Petersburg. They had met in high school 2 years ago and were fast friends ever since.

Anna was more of a country girl. Her family was forced to move out of Chernobyl before she was born. They found themselves just outside of Kyiv, where her father managed to buy a piece of land and restart his bee keeping business.

Unlike Sophie, Anna was not tall and blonde. She was average height with long, jet black hair and hazel eyes.  She had the robust build of a country girl, not petite and yet feminine. Her hips were womanly and her bosom full. She was blessed with a creamy complexion and a countenance that was almost angelic. Those hazel eyes were large and doe like, her lips full, her teeth straight and perfect.  In another age she could have posed nude for Botticelli or Carracci.  When they were together, she and Sophie, they were a contrast – the tall petite blonde and the dark, sultry beauty.

Everyone wanted the ‘good’ degrees, computers, engineering, sciences. Maybe she should consider herself lucky thought Sophie, going for a nowhere program like philosophy and semantics. Who wants philosophers anyway? She didn’t care. She disliked the strict thinking that was required in the ‘hard’ areas. She wanted to explore why things were the way they were based on human behaviour. What, she always wondered, was intelligence? What is the essence of it? What makes people different from a very clever chimpanzee or a trained dolphin? Why do we communicate? Why do we talk? If we are intelligent, why do we do stupid things? This is what intrigued her. This is what pushed her through high school, made her graduate top of her school.

But that was a little school in Kyiv, not Petersburg. Based on her marks she had no problem being accepted. That was the easy part. In theory, there was no tuition, in reality; you had to know who to bribe. Her father spent many hours on the phone, haggling with the various officials at different levels, trying to get the best ‘deal’. Eventually, he managed to negotiate Sophie’s acceptance at Petersburg in a Linguistics and Semantics program. She could have qualified for anything, but this is what she wanted and thankfully, it was not a popular as the other programs.

Petersburg was a long way away. She did have an elderly aunt, Svetlana, her father’s oldest sister, who lived alone  in the city. Svetlana had married a minor official in the Gorbechev regime who was crafty enough to have maneuvered his way up the bureaucratic ladder. He rose high enough to choose his posting, and having enough foresight to see where the future was, he chose Petersburg to end his career.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he entered into some agreements with a few other semi-corrupt officials and managed to gain ownership of a desirable block of flats on the main island. Through the turbulent  2000’s, the income from the flats made up for the loss of his pension.

When he died in 2005, Svetlana took over ownership. Unrecognized skills emerged in her as a business woman and landlady. She realized the potential of the location and building. She spent money wisely keeping the apartments updated in a style people were demanding, while at the same time keeping the ambiance and the atmosphere of the Georgian structure.

She  had taken over a nice two bedroom flat on the first floor (she did not like taking the stairs). Sophie was one of her favorite niece’s, being smart, beautiful and not putting up with following the rules. Something that Svetlana admired, being somewhat of a rebel herself in her day.

When Sophie’s father called to ask if Sophie could live there during her studies, Svetlana did not hesitate to agree. She turned down Vladimir’s suggestion that he pay some sort of stipend for his daughter. “She is family and I have lots of money,” Svetlana said, “you would not believe how much I can get in rent for these flats. Boris may have been an officious bore, but he knew where the world was going and made a hell of a good investment. I am getting old and I would love to have a young person around to talk to and keep me up to date with what is going on. Maybe she can teach me how to use a computer”. She chuckled at this.

It was from Svetlana’s that Sophie had come that morning. She had actually arrived 4 days ago, flying in from Kyiv. She didn’t have much, a bag of clothes and the mandatory laptop being her only possessions. Her father had deposited a few thousand rubles in her bank account, but she was expected to do something to pay her way as time wore on.

Sophie didn’t think that would be a problem. She spoke English and French fluently. Her German was coming along nicely. If you had the languages, you could tap into the burgeoning tourist industry that was happening in Petersburg. Cruise ships were arriving daily in the summer. The city was full of sites and places that visitors wanted to see. Sophie had already been to a few places for jobs. Being tall, blonde and attractive certainly helped.

The line behind her had grown by a few dozen people and there were only 2 in front of her. Almost 2 hours. Anna was still in her line, with the kiosk window still far from sight.

Finally she reached the pudgy, pork like lady in the kiosk. She was not a friendly person.  She was fat in that way that only certain people can be fat. Short, her body was a round ball which merged with a multitude of chins. Her eyes were deeply inset, down wells created by huge jowls.

She took Sophie’s papers and laid them out in front of her. Scanning them, she humphed and hummed to herself as she read them. It seemed that she was annoyed that they all were in order. Sophie had done her research and knew which documents were most important, what the little esoteric bits were that needed to filled out properly and had most of the statues and regulations on the enrollment process committed to memory.

Peeking over the glasses that were halfway down her nose, she granted a smile to Sophie, displaying bad teeth, yellow with dark brown stains on the edges. “You are a very well prepared young lady”, she said. “Most of these assholes don’t even have these filled out.” With a flourish she stamped the documents in numerous places, took the ones she needed and passed the stamped pile back to Sophie. “I think you will do well my dear. And I don’t often say that to these kids”, and she tilted her head towards the mass of humanity in the hall.

“Well thank you madam” She picked up her papers and put them in her backpack. “Good luck with the rest of them” she quipped over her shoulder and she walked away.

 

“I think we have mice Auntie”, Sophie was sipping her tea and having toast after returning from her busy day of registration and exchanging horror stories of the process with Anna.

Svetlana spun around and shook a spoon at her, “We do not have mice. I do not allow mice in my building. Why do you say we have mice? Did you see any?” She was peering at Sophia with daggers jumping from her eyes. To imply that there were mice was an affront to her sensibilities. She prided herself on the cleanliness of the flats. She was meticulous in repairing any damage, removing the waste, keeping the common areas spotless. There were certain standards one had to maintain in order to charge the rents she did, and she was not going to allow them to be compromised. She waged an ongoing war with the dark wooden floors, dusting and mopping them to keep the dust away. She hated the sight of blemishes or settled dust on those floors. At least, sometimes twice a day, she would be sweeping. A spider web was a catastrophe, a dust ball a calamity, a hair ball an obscenity.

Sophie face cracked into a smile “Just kidding auntie... we don’t have mice. But I scared you didn’t I?”, she had a mischievous look on her face as she watched her aunt.

Putting the spoon down, Svetlana leaned on the cupboard. She covered her chest with her other hand, “My dear, you nearly gave me a heart attack. Mice! Nasty little creatures. There were mice in here once. But after a long battle – believe me it was long – lots of traps, lots of little dead bodies – I got rid of them. They used to leave little droppings everywhere. You could always tell where they were, they ruined things. Eating through the walls, spoiling the food. Hated the little bastards. What good are they anyway? Why did God put them on the earth? Was he fooling with us? They were hard to purge I will let you know. Just when you think you had them stamped out, they would pop up again. I am always on the watch for them you know.  Telling me I had them again struck me in my very heart.” That was a phrase Svetlana used often when discussing stressful or weighty things, they ‘struck her in her very heart’. “You are a nasty niece. I think I will kick you out on the street.”

Sophie got up and hugged her aunt. “You won’t do that, who would make borscht the way you like it? “ One of the first things Sophie did the day she arrived was to offer to make dinner. Her father had told her that Svetlana loved borscht, but had been complaining for years that no one made it the way she liked it. Her father had his mother’s old recipes, so Sophie made sure she had a copy of the one for borscht. She had arrived early enough to make the markets and get the right ingredients, safely assuming that her aunt would not have everything she needed. It immediately enamoured Svetlana to her niece. She crowed about as she ate it, lamenting the fact she had had to wait all these years to have it this good again.

During that meal they quickly bonded. Sharing a bottle of wine, some black bread and borsch, Svetlana realized that she had missed having someone like Sophie around for years. Someone who was bright and cheerful, who did not want to talk about their aches and pains, who did not want to complain about the bus service, or the cost of coffee, or the rudeness of the clerks at the stores, or how much better it was in the old day. Huh – old days. Those that whined about the days under communism were lazy and useless. They floundered in the new world. Could not adjust to being responsible for your own life.. With Sophia, Svetlana had real conversations. They talked about books, about that asshole Putin, about what was happening in the world, about what to do in Petersburg. Svetlana finally understood more about the internet and how that mysterious thing works then she ever knew.

They both learned that they each have a mischievous and fun loving side. Sophie found out the second night when she pulled down her sheets to crawl into bed and found a huge plastic spider under the covers. Svetlana was hovering outside her door, waiting to hear her scream.

“I am all registered now and I start classes next week” she said between bites of her toast.

“And a job? Have you got any prospects yet?” her aunt asked as she wiped the cupboard.

“I’ve dropped off a lot of CV’s. But I think I have to show up in person at some places”

Svetlana turned to her, “You are a beautiful girl Sophie, do I have to tell you about what some places might want you to do?”

Sophie looked up at her “No auntie, I’m a big girl as well. I know what is going on in the world. I’m not going to be a hooker or anything stupid like that. I think I can get a waitress job in one of the better places in town. The Francesco might be good, I can work on my Italian, or the Beau Rivage, since my French is excellent. The pay is crap, but the tips are very good. Plus they don’t make you wear skimpy outfits and flirt with the customers.”

It made Svetlana’s heart fill with joy when she knew she had such a well grounded neice. Her brother was an asshole when they were young, but at least something good came out of him. It might have been her mother too. She had to concede to genetics.

She ended up at L’Europe in the Grand Hotel on Nevskly Prospekt.  The front of the house, Yasif Apktekar, hired her for 2 reasons, her languages and her ascetics. Yasif cared not to carry her away to the bedroom and frolic under the sheets until spent. He saved that for his boyfriend. He did care to create an ambiance for the Tzarist themed restaurant. It was a lavish palace, catering to the private jet crowd. They demanded things that were pleasing to all the senses. Sophie was pleasing to the eye and to the ear. Her Russian was flawless, the English lilting yet perfect, her French formal and poised. Her Italian was a work in progress, but for now, English and French were fine.

The pay, as Sophie knew, was shit. But the tips were phenomenal.

 

2008

It had been a good night at L’Europe. Some Arabs were out on the town. They flirted, tried to get her number. She was immune to that now. She knew how to string them along, how to maximize the fantasy but nullify the reality.

After splitting with the bus boys, cooks, maître and somanaire, she still had 15 thousand rubles. The best night ever. Four or five thousand was her average.

“Hi Anna,” she said as she walked along the canal, “I’m done now. What are you doing?”

Anna and Sophie, despite being in different programs, still managed to remain constantly in touch. Thank you Apple and Megafon. “I don’t feel like going out tonight. Besides, it’s late. Want to come over? I have some American beer that Gregorie is bribing me with to go to bed with him.” She chuckled on the phone. “It won’t work. I think he is a worm. A nice, big friendly bearded worm, but a worm anyway.”

Sophie laughed as well, “Yes, I’ll come over. I’m at the canal now. Be just a few minutes.” She pushed the big red button on her phone. There was an email waiting, but she ignored it. She ignored most of the attempts to contact her on her phone.  If, she thought, someone really wanted to get in touch, they would call repeatedly and she would eventually get to it. She hated voice mail. She hated the annoying tree of press this and press that to hear someone say they were trying to get in touch with her, end of call. Technology she thought was a toy. Only the eternal things mattered, literature, music, art. Everything else was simply a waste of time. She scorned her fellow students who spent hours sitting on the steps or in coffee shops, mindlessly playing games or sending irrelevant notes to each other. She would rather spend her time at the Hermitage or in the library, pouring through old texts, trying to get into the mind of Mediaeval thinkers. Not that she was a total luddite when it came to the use of technology, she found the search tools and the information systems invaluable when it came to ferreting out nuances of information. She did message Anna quite a bit and she even talked Svetlana into getting a cell phone. Lately she was plowing through the Polnoe Sobranie Russkikh Letopisey – the complete collection of Russian chronicals. She was up to volume 6, Sofia Chronicle. She was investigating its relationship with Lvov Chronicle. She found it fascinating, everyone else thought it was thoroughly boring.

Mounting the steps to Anna’s building, she pressed the buzzer. The lock made a loud clack and she pushed the door open, being careful to close it tightly afterwards. There was numerous instances of thieves getting into buildings because tenants were lazy about making sure the door was closed. They would get into a building and systematically rob every apartment, terrorizing the tenants and sometimes taking certain liberties with the woman.

Taking the steps two at a time, she arrived at Anna’s door. Anna opened it after the first knock.

“Well, where is the beer”, Sophie asked as they hugged.

Anna was wearing only her robe and some fuzzy slippers. Her hair was mussed and the living room reflected the state of her hair. Clothes were strewn about, her computer was surrounded by manuals of various types – with titles like C++ and Java. Sophie understood none of it.

“I was working on a program, but I’ve had enough. My mind has turned to mush. I want to turn it to absolute mush,” and she pulled two cans of Budweiser from the fridge. “America’s favorite beer – or something like that.” She popped the pull tab and took a swig. “Tastes like water.”

Sophie took her can and plopped into a clear spot on the couch. She pried it open an took a sip. “Yes, it does taste like water. Americans, they really have no taste.”

They chatted about trivial things, classes, some sales at the boutiques, whether or not to attend the U2 concert that was coming to town. They both decided they would go, and Sophie had enough to get them both tickets. Anna would pay her back eventually, but unfortunately Anna didn’t have a job that was as well playing as Sophie. She had the grandiose title of barista at one of the dozens of Starbucks that had popped up around town. It amazed both of them that people would pay hundreds of rubles for a coffee using an artificial language.

After 4 of the watery American beers they were both getting a bit of a buzz on.

“Did I tell you about Sergie?” Sophie asked coyly.

Anna perked up “No you didn’t you naughty girl. Who is this Sergie?” she leaned forward, suddenly eager to miss nothing.

“He is a prof in one of my courses. Very intelligent. Very good looking. Fit too, not a fatty at all. I think he jogs or something. I am thinking of seducing him.” She said this nonchalantly and  took a sip of her beer.

Anna’s eyes popped open “No – you’re not are you? I mean, he’s a prof. They can get in trouble for fucking their students.”

“I know, but he excites me. I am working on a plan. I think I will need some time with him to go over some challenging parts of the Chronicles.” She giggled.

“Tsk Tsk... at least you’ve got a sexy prof. All of mine are badly dressed, smell like cigarettes or booze, swear like soldiers and have no interest in anything but computers, computer games and cars. You would think they would be more mature to teach this stuff.” She shook her head. “ I can get as much extra attention as I want.” She flicked her hair back and pushed out her chest, “both the profs and the other students are always peeking at me, and it isn’t to see my unique and fantastic code.”

“It is to see your unique and fantastic tits I guess.” Sophie laughed, Anna laughed and almost spilled her beer.

“After you are successful in the seduction, what will you do? Do you want to keep him? Is this merely an intellectual exercise, another challenge for the indomitable Sophie?’

“I don’t know. I haven’t planned that far ahead. If he is married, maybe I will blackmail him. If he has a girlfriend, maybe I will take her place. If he wants to keep me, maybe I will break his heart..”

“You are a sneaky little bitch. That’s what I love about you.” Anna jumped over and gave her a hug. She sat down on the sofa beside Sophie atop a bunch of clothes. “Another beer?”

“This is a deceptive beverage. Insidious, like American culture. You don’t think it is harmful until it takes affect. So I must have another.”

 

Sophie stayed at Anna’s that night, making a nest on the cluttered sofa. She didn’t have classes until the afternoon and no shift at the restaurant that night. Anna left early for Starbucks, expecting Sophie to lock up.

Arranged on the mantle of the fake fireplace were the trophies from Anna’s life. A picture o f her and her father standing in front of an old Lada. Another of her mother and Anna. Both pictures were in old fashioned silver frames. A baseball given to her by a former boyfriend. A souvenir he picked up on a trip to America. A statue like thing of a beagle from some German company that specializes in making miniature models of animals. Her first dog, Wolfy, was a beagle. Her family always had dogs. Now they have a big Labrador, which she named Goldy because of the colour. She thought that all dogs should have names that end in a y.

These were ignored by Sophie as she picked herself up off the sofa. After her toilet, she gathered her bag. Checking that the door would lock after her, she left.

Her first class that afternoon was an elective she was taking on the history of publishing and print making. It dovetailed nicely with her first passion, semantics, and provided some insight into the thoughts and feelings from the various eras.

A Russian pop band was on her ipod. Some recent hit..

Flowing out without stop

Upon bridges and under clouds

Wars within fires burn cold

Learning to forget is harder

As the leaves fall off the trees

And the replies to unanswered questions

Become lost in the wind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: January 28, 2021

© Copyright 2021 RB Lafosse. All rights reserved.

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