I have to become a girl

I had conflicting thoughts. They wanted to make a movie based on to my book. But I was not given the lead role. It was unbearable. First, the book is almost autobiographical, I described my own life in it, so who if not would play the main character? Secondly, the dream to play in a movie was stronger than the desire to become a writer. Would I ever get such an opportunity again? Of course I wouldn’t.

‘I can lose 60 pounds if required’, I told Maxim, the film director. ‘If you don’t like my body, I won’t leave the gym for a second. I’ll have plastic surgery. I’ll paint and build my hair.’

‘Yes, that’s right’, the director said. ‘That’s right.’ He dipped his huge hands into his thick curly brown hair and stared at me severely and inquisitively. ‘If I needed two actresses to act as your heroine, I would definitely take you for the second part of the film. But we need an actress who could play a teenager and a mature woman, a famous writer. So please excuse me, it’s about my money, not only my reputation, OK?’

‘So you think I am too big, right?’ I said in a small voice.

‘Come on’, Maxim said and waved his hand. ‘There is nothing in your book about the girl’s size. Besides, it’s not the main thing at all.’

‘What is then? There are makeup and plastic… Don’t you know that, Maxim?’

The director lost his patience. ‘You really think you can act as a teenager? When did you see yourself in the looking-glass last time?’

I choked with rage. I was a famous, well-groomed woman, men of all ages used to turn around to see me, I looked much younger than my age, and that gave me the confidence in my dedication to play in a movie.

Maxim realized that it was much too far and waved his hand reassuringly,

‘It’s not that. You see, you have eyes of a successful lady who knows very well what she wants. The look of a spoiled and capricious woman can’t be just erased from your face. Plus the vanity, and, pardon the expression, arrogance. While your book describes the last century with its chastity and innocence. The girl’s eyes, it’s… it’s… Well, it’s something no plastic can help. One can’t explain that in words. It’s easier for a girl to play an adult woman. In your case, it is impossible… I’m sorry, I like what you write and I don’t want to…’

‘Oh, there is no need in compliments. No is no. Let me ask you if you have found an actress for the lead role’ I asked with dignity, though my voice was trembling.

‘Not yet. We are still looking for an actress. There are two candidates who look not bad. We’ll begin shooting in a couple of weeks.’ He told me the names. I didn’t know them.

A girlish look in the eyes…

How should a girl look?

And yet I hoped to get the role. What if the young actresses will fail? I had two weeks to become a girl.

I wandered through the streets peering into the faces. I sat in cafes, walked around stadiums and spent time at night clubs. I tried to absorb the energy of youth, like an elephant weakened by thirst plunges her head into cool, clear water. I tried on those brightly colored, ruddy, pimply, funny and sad masks. Actually, I was able to copy people, their facial expressions, gestures, speech peculiarities. True, it never lasted long, maybe a week. After that, I would get tired and gradually become myself.

It was a special occasion now, I had to try. And I did my best. I tried to waddle, skipping, talk shyly, hesitantly or cheekily. I just didn’t know what else I could do. Long walking made my back ache, but I still didn’t look like a teenager. There were just a middle-aged woman’s clumsy attempts to pretend to be a girl. I even thought I had grown old, my face was drawn, there were two deep wrinkles between my eyebrows, and besides, I had a haunted and sad expression.

It was really sad. Days went by, they would soon start shooting, but I had not discovered the secret of youth, more than that, I was losing my real personality! And yet, I, like any woman, had my own secrets. After trying a bunch of cheap, expensive and super expensive creams, I came to the conclusion that their purpose was just moisturizing the face. As well that could be achieved by using sour cream, oil or a liquid oat meal. Daily facial massage and rubbing the face with ice were the most effective procedures. Here is how I see the process of creating the creams: a huge tank looking like a blast furnace is used to boil sour cream mixture, which is then poured into a thousand smaller barrels; various flavors and paints are added, then all that colorful stuff is put into small jars with colored stickers that go to the stores and sold at different prices…

The creams are good for nothing. I must become a girl…

I surrounded myself with numerous books of ancient mystics.

«Put in front of yourself your portrait that you like best. Look at it as often as possible, and after a while you will look the ways you look in the portrait. However, this is will not for last long. In order to have a long-time effect…»

I needed no long-time effect though. For the filming period only. I found my old photo where I was a girl of sixteen wearing a short dress with white polka dots, with a long pigtail curled in ringlets. I put the photo in a frame of small roses and placed it on the table beside the bed. I dug my eyes into it before going to sleep and after getting up. A week passed. I didn’t see myself rejuvenated, and, more than that, I saw nothing in common between myself and that girl with a long pigtail.

I was in despair. There were three days left. The time was up. The pile of books on black and white magic, with exorcisms and ancient prayers, was growing.

«Past, present and future exist in parallel. If you plunge into the past, you can change the present. The Universe has a lot of variants of reality…»

I believed in that, though theoretically. Yes, those numerous variants do exist. But how do I attract that quantum ball with number 16? How do I get those several atoms of the past?

I must have missed something when the film director was telling me about the girlish look. He said about plastic… No, it was who said that, and he then asked me. “What are you thinking about?”

I told him frankly that I was thinking about my daughter’s wedding. And I didn’t tell him, also frankly, that I couldn’t find a backache ointment.

The thoughts. He said it was important to have a girl’s thoughts. The rest will come automatically.

A girl’s thoughts… When I was a teenager, I thought about wearing great clothes and looking great. I am now also thinking about a dress that would make me look great at my daughter’s wedding.  So what’s the difference between those thoughts and these ones?

I had no idea. Besides, I had so little time, next to nothing. When will I do that? My time is up…

«In order to come back to a certain point in the past, you must recreate in great detail the smell, taste, color, touch, sounds and images of the space in which you were at that time…»

Stop. That’s interesting. But do I have enough time for recreating all that? When, how, and where will I do that?

In the countryside. In the countryside of course. Last time I was there I was 16, and it was then that I felt dizzy and insane for the first time in my life. I must get ready. OK, the sounds… What did I hear? What songs did they play in the club? «An oriole is singing in the raspberry patch», «You’re telling me about love.» I went to the music store. It was quite easy – to buy, record, and put on the headphones.

The smell… What did I smell of? «Silver Lily of the Valley», a thick, oily, pale green perfume with a strong suffocating odor. Where do I get it? In those times, there was nothing to choose from. «Attar»,  «Silver Lily of the Valley, and «Maybe». I asked all my friends we dug all the old trunks of living and non-living grandmothers, with funeral shorts and slippers, rotted sheets of love letters and yellow laces. I slammed the wooden covers as if shutting coffins as they irradiated the smell of decay, moisture, and bygone centuries. We even found ancient coins, but no «Silver Lily of the Valley» perfume. Then I slapped myself on the forehead — instead of wasting time, I should simply go to a store and ask for a perfume with the lily of the valley scent! We found it in no time. The faint, cool, spring scent. In order to turn it into the smell of my youth, I would have to pour the whole bottle on my head.

So there were touching, color, and images. I will put the touch, and the images off for the countryside, but the color… What did I wear? Oh, yes, here is the dress in the pictures. A short blue dress with polka dots as large as cherries. That’s what I want… I found a dress like that in a third store. It is a bit too small, especially in the armpits. No problem. It’s time to be getting ready.

There was on day left.

I told my husband the whole truth, asked him to let me visit the past for an hour and take it easy. My husband is a clever guy, but this time he resisted thinking that my village ex-boyfriends would be there again.

‘Come on, sweetheart’, I laughed. ‘What boyfriends are you talking about? I am a decent lady and, besides, village guys become drunkards faster than they grow old.’

My husband let me go reluctantly but told me to call him every twenty minutes.

Freedom! I had strange feelings… I was driving my car dressed in the small short dress with white polka dots, all bathed in the lily-of-the valley perfume, listening to the headphones performing songs of my youth, I was getting absolutely crazy. Where was I going? For youth did I want to get back? Did I really want to unlock the unlockable door? With every other minute, the absurdity of my journey was becoming more and more obvious, but I just couldn’t turn back. It was a kind of magic, witchcraft… The desire to see the village was irresistible.

The village of Pavlovskoye… The same stop. The shabby walls covered with numberless declarations of love. Vasya plus Masha equals love. Here is the plantation… My God, the trees are just gigantic! Everything is huge, overgrown, and quite different! I drove on the dirt road, the car was bouncing. Here are the first houses. Without recognizing what I saw, I drove on and entered the village. Tall trees, unfamiliar houses. Here is the school in the center of the village. Old, the windows are broken, no doors.

I got out of the car. It was so unusual, scary and strange to step on the path on which I had walked as a girl. The same huge silvery-purple burdocks, the boys used to throw purple prickles at us. I looked back, just in case. No one… And so quiet… Magic silence. Suddenly I realized that the night was coming — but how did that happen? I was walking down the path as spellbound. Then I ran. As a child, I never walked — just ran.

The days when the store received hot dark bread with a crispy crust were quite special. On those days, my grandmother would examine me carefully, made me put a decent skirt on instead of the short one, and only then give me a bag and a ruble. To buy a few loaves of bread and a bottle of soda pop.

Granny died long ago, when I was in the 10th form. I had never visited the village since then. Here is granny’s house, half destroyed, but the other part of it is OK, and so is the roof. I closed her eyes in fear and entered the house through the empty doorway. There was no  door. Everything was covered with plaster, straw, trash… Nothing else. Where there had been three large icons in wooden frames, a small lamp on a long black chain suspended from the ceiling in front of the icons, there was just emptiness. No ticking grandfather’s clock with brass cones, no creaking floorboards. I shook my head — no clock. Under them, there had always stood a bucket of icy cold spring water. On the table covered with a blue checkered tablecloth, there had been a dish with hot yellow donuts. There had been a small mirror on the window sill. Is my little mirror the only reality? I grabbed it and ran out.

I chose the elder by the window as the site of action, that is, a dive into the past. This is where Kolya had kissed me. The bush was still the same. I went up to its rough trunk, touched the dry crust with my fingers, breathed the bitter smell, leaned against it and closed my eyes. Something was wrong. Besides the choking lily scent, something else was missing. Something important. Manure! There had been an incredibly strong smell of manure! Everybody used to have a cow, many even had two or three. There was no smell now. I had to find a cow cake and put it near the elder. I got off the rough trunk and walked aimlessly. It was drizzling, and seemed that sugar was falling on my head. There was no light in the houses I was passing by, and it was unclear whether or not the village was still there. I walked and walked and found myself at the edge. A field stretched before me. It smelled of manure, probably someone had cows. I put three huge cakes in a package, but they were wet because of the rain. Thank God they didn’t at least flow in my hands like poisonous streams, but I did manage to squeeze them into the package like dark-brown smelly dough. One would do anything to reach one’s goal though.

I found a large puddle and washed my hands in it. Then I went back, threw the cow cakes under the elder, leaned against the gnarled tree and closed my eyes. I no longer wanted to dive into my past. All I wanted was laughing and dancing barefoot on the stinking manure! Suddenly, I was flooded by non-romantic memories. I remembered putting cotton wool in my bras as I had next to no breasts. All the girls had breasts while I had none. It was awful! But huge pieces of cotton wool made me feel a queen. The only thing I feared was that Kolya could have touched my fake breast inadvertently. Problem number two was the pants. Mother used to instruct Granny to make sure that I had my pants on. Those were long pants, and it was better to die than wear them. There was a terrible deficit in this country, and it was almost impossible to get good panties, but mother those things didn’t bother my mother. She didn’t care about clothes after the war was over, and there were a pair of boots for her five children. OK, so didn’t wear panties, which was, unlike today, a huge and unprecedented shame. My cheeks were burning. Did the memories make such a huge impression on me? It was the first time in a hundred years that I blushed! Well, nothing lyrical, nothing that I expected, just nonsense. Can this make one younger?

I remembered that I hadn’t been really in love with that guy, Kolya. Yes, he was a handsome adult man smelling real cigarettes, he had thick curly chestnut hair, but it was not the main reason. I needed badly someone to kiss! All my classmates kissed except me. I had no breasts, and I didn’t kiss! I should kiss and tell the girls as soon as possible. Just look at Larisa: she comes back to town from the village looking so mysterious saying proudly that Alyosha had been kissing her like crazy so that her lips had turned blue. Well, all of them kissed, Olga, Tatiana, just everyone! I had closed my eyes patiently and pressed my lips involuntarily waiting for Kolya to kiss me or something.

I put off the kiss during a week. I had no lipstick, but I did want to have slightly swollen red lips. So I rubbed them with small, toy-like red peppers that were growing in a pot in Granny’s kitchen. My lips started burning! They turned really red and swollen, I even could not even breathe from pain. Luckily, I put my face in a bucket of ice-cold water and kept it there for an hour. I woukld pull my face out of the bucket, breethe and plunge again. It took my lips a week to heal, that’s what suffering I had undergone! And when it came to kissing, the guy stuck to me like a calf and just rubbed my whole face with his thick lips. If it hadn’t been for the girls, I would have never suffered like that, there would have been no cotton wool creaking on my chest, without panties, with still unhealed and burning lips. But it was necessary to bring the case to the end, and I fearlessly, like an adult, was stroking Kolya’s shaggy hair… Whose hair did it remind me of?

Granny was sleeping. I stealthily took the creaky floorboards and happy, like a person who had made a great feat, went to bed. Lying in bed, in the thick darkness, I relived the kiss. Everything was completely different: my heart was beating strongly, my palms were sweaty from fear, I was longing to see Kolya again.

That’s how it had been…

I woke up. The moon was sailing majestically in the sky. Everything acquired special coloring; the sweet moist air was shining, the trees, the grass, the warm earth were looking special. The space around me was growing with every passing second, becoming multilayered, with different shades of transparency: pink, blue, pearl…

It was a triumphant fullness of being, infinite and immortal. A lifetime was in front of me. Why should I hurry? I still have plenty of time. I will have hundreds of opportunities to play in a movie. I’ll write a book… I’ll write a lot of books. They will be begging to play in the lead.

I rushed to the school building where my car was. Lovely wet branches, just silver and gold, were whipping my burning face. I heard some shrill voices, a charming magical chorus. As if those wandering ringing sounds, were being strung on a golden thread like pearls… The trees, grass, bushes and flowers were full of a mysterious and fantastic life. It seemed to me that a purple branch shook slightly, a tiny foot flashed, dew splashed like grape juice… I yanked the door, feel down in the seat, started the car and drove back…

Now I understood who Kolya looked like. He looked like Maxim, the film director! He had similar shiny hair and similar swollen red lips. How does he kiss? It would be great, kissing him, put my fingers into those fragrant thickets. He has such an unusual scent! And I need no explanation And I don’t need to invent an excuse to meet up with my director: I can just ask him quite seriously about the shooting and about the way the actress was acting for my heroine.

I slept not more than a couple of hours, jumped up, put on the dress with polka dots hurriedly, and ran to the editor. I rushed to the third floor, ran along the hallway, nodded to Vera, the receptionist, and burst into the room without knocking. Maxim saw me and his face turned red,

‘Who let you in without permission? Vera, why the hell do you let teenagers enter my office?

I left the office frightened and confused, looked at the receptionist, adjusting my hair automatically, looked in the mirror hanging in front of me, and yelled in a heart-rending voice,

‘Y-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-s!!!’

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