My second collection of short stories.
R. J. Buckley Publishing
THE TRAIN TO MOSCOW
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
A SILVER LINING
JUST A DREAM
LOVE IS JUST A WORD
MOHAN, INDIAN BOY
Above is the list of titles in this book. I'm thrilled with how it all came together, for I can tell you right now, I'm hooked on writing short stories. Yes, there are bits and pieces of me in these stories, rightfully so. You see, it all comes from me, some from my imaginations, some from my experiences, some true, some not. And as always, it's your guess. That's the fun of it for me.
"The Train to Moscow" was inspired by an actual train I took from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It could have happened just as I described, oh yes. I think I need to take that ride again.
In "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", the plight of the homeless was stirring me up again. It's a short-short story and was initially the result of a writing exercise - using a list of ten words to write a story and writing it quickly. Of course I expounded a little, it's longer than the original paragraph.
"A Silver Lining" was my contribution to the anthology by the Amazon Shorts writers - mentioned below. It had to fall within the guidelines of the Window on the World theme. I truly enjoyed writing this one. It was a challenge. Just love those challenges.
"Just a Dream" is one that Amazon Shorts published last year. And I love it, I hope you do, too. It's okay to love my own stories.
Okay, "Mama's Diaries." I've received so many emails asking for more of this story. I had put an excerpt up on one of my blogs and boy did I get a response. And yes, I do love this story, too. So now you can at last enjoy the rest of it. I'm thinking of expanding this one into a novel.
"Love is Just a Word": a woman's take on the three simple words - I Love You - and whether or not they mean anything other than just that. Are they committing words or not?
"Brothers" is the story of two babies - one who escaped death, one who didn't. I will say that this one is all too familiar. Just as in my last collection when I wrote "Oh Yes, I remember", this one is also dear to my heart.
And then comes "Viagra Dialogues." Quite a contrast! I had to wait till both my parents went to the after-life to write this one. It is double-X-rated. Yep, I do have it in me, folks. And some of it is funny.
"Zara's Secret" is next and is a story of a American woman in Paris making some wrong choices, and then again, maybe not. But as always in forbidden love there is a price to pay.
AND lastly . . . "Mohan, Indian Boy." A real departure for me having a charming little boy as my main character. I was sitting in a mall waiting for my son who was being fitted with eyeglasses one day not so long ago, when an Apache family entered the corridor. Just watching them, the two parents with their son who was the spitten image of both of them, was all it took for me to feel the beginning of a story. And it has been a delight writing it. Arizona has a few Apache reservations and the terrain and environment all around was inspiring for this story. It's set near Sedona in a past era - with all the beautiful, spritual surroundings in the red-rock foothills.
THE TRAIN TO MOSCOW
There was a cloudy sky that day in the Russian countryside. I’ll never forget that train ride from St. Petersburg on its way to Moscow with the villages passing by. It felt as if they were moving, not the train. The occasional sway to the left or to the right reminded me that I was on a train, however. Oh how I wanted to stop and get off in one of the villages along the railway. The view wasn’t as beautiful as the countryside in England and Switzerland, or Austria where I’d just been, no comparison at all, but it was appealing, nonetheless.
I wondered if a person like me could get lost in one of the poor, tiny hovels and be as obscure as Jude in Thomas Hardy’s writings. Yes, that’s what I wanted, to be obscure, to disappear, be unseen, unknown, and unheard of. I wanted out of my life and into someone else’s.
I did that one time, dropped out of my life. I was 50 years old. I ran away like a child runs away from home, same as I did when I was 17 years old, only that time it was only three days. Still not a child then, however, I was a teenage runaway, but the last time I was a bit more than a teenager, and I left the child at home – well, not really a child, he was nearly thirty.
I remember those five months I escaped to the northwest by Greyhound bus, not knowing a soul, not a care in the world, losing myself (although it was more like gaining myself) in a small town in Idaho and then in Billings, Montana. No one knew where I had gone - not my family, not my friends, absolutely no one. I felt better during those five months than I ever had in my adult life – no pressures, no stress, no nothing.
In Montana I met an old man who drove around in an old Ford pickup truck who said he had known Wild Bill Cody’s cook. Now, how old was that? Martin, the old man, had written a book about the Wild Bill days - the early American cowboy and Indian days. Martin was interesting, but very lonely. Sure I felt sorry for him, but not that sorry. When he began calling me his angel and slicking back his hair with Brylcreem and wearing Brut cologne on our excursions to the local diner, I decided it was time for me to move on.
I also met some ex-Vietnam helicopter pilots and heard some fantastic stories on one of my nights out. They were staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Billings – resting up between water drops on a nearby forest fire. I would stop by the Sheraton to have a glass of wine, occasionally, before calling it a day and returning to my dilapidated hotel room next to the bus station where I was staying. It was also at the Sheraton where I met a good-looking man from Wyoming who I thought might be my next one-and-only until he told me he was married and had to go home the morning after I spent the night with him. Lordy, Lordy! Well, that’s when I decided to go back to L.A. to reappear in my own life. I found I could complicate my life no matter where I was.
And I wasn’t going to wait around to see if the rancher up near Canada was going to reply to my answer to his newspaper ad. His wife had Muscular Dystrophy and he advertised for someone to clean and cook and take care of his two teenagers. I figured I could do that. But instead, I went back to Los Angeles, back to corporate America, and I never knew if the rancher had responded or not. I always wondered how my life would have been if I had become a housekeeper and a cook on a ranch near Canada.
And now here I was, on the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, having those same break-away, run-away, feelings again. I wanted to get off the damn train and live with the Russian people, to learn their language and become just another poor peasant in the Russian countryside. I was tired of my complicated, congested life. I wanted to cut all ties from all my projects, friends and family again. I felt I needed a breather, maybe a permanent one. I’d managed to overload myself with commitments and deadlines as usual and my mind and body ached under the weight of it all.
My secretary had insisted I take a vacation and since she knew all about my desire to go back to Russia and my obsession with Russian history, she suggested I take a month off and do it. So I acquiesced. It took a few months to make all the arrangements through the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and to obtain letters from the hotels that I’d booked. You can’t just hop on a plane and go to Russia like everyone does when they come to the United States. So, here I was in Russia, again. I hadn’t thought about book deadlines, marketing strategies and hectic schedules at all. I had switched off that part of my mind for the time being. My small publishing company could operate without me till I returned.
I hadn’t thought about Kaman either. He could go to hell for all I cared.
My attention was drawn to the woman sitting across the aisle from me on the train to Moscow. She asked the conductor if she could order a glass of champagne. He said, no, he only sold champagne by the bottle. She looked disappointed, but thanked him and ordered coffee instead.
I had noticed her in the train station in St. Petersburg before boarding. You couldn’t miss her because of the large red hat she was wearing and the red and white polka dot dress. She wore white, scuffed high heels and carried a red handbag. She appeared to be a bit wilted, as if she’d been traveling for a couple days. I think she was feeling self-conscious and felt conspicuous in her attire that stood out from the rest of the passengers. She reminded me of Leslie Caron as Lili Daurier in the film – “Lili”. She was an older version of Caron of course, and stouter, but with the same pixie hair cut and those endearing features and big brown eyes. She glanced at me a few times on the train and smiled. I returned the smile, said hello once, she said hello, shyly.
I got up from my seat and walked to the forward car where the waiter was turning in orders. I ordered a bottle of champagne and two glasses, told him that I wanted to share it with the woman in the red hat.
His eyes sparkled and he seemed happy to accommodate me.
I returned to my seat and waited.
We were slowing down at a village station where the usual tiny box houses dotted the landscape. Some were side by side along the tracks, others were scattered back across the flat land. Then to my delight, a huge lake appeared beyond the houses. It stretched for miles it seemed, unexpectedly beautiful. Now trees were bordering the railway, blocking the view in spots, but what I could see was wonderful and inviting.
Although every house was different from its neighbor, they all seemed to be about the same size, just had different trim and were made of different materials. From the train they looked like little decorated boxes when in reality they appeared to be no more than 30 feet by 30 feet square. I would have loved to have seen the inside of one of those houses. I wondered if the woman in the red hat was from one of the villages, maybe she was on her way home from a visit to St. Petersburg.
One thing I noticed about the working people in St. Pete, they wore mono-chromatic colors, nothing bright. My black attire and shortness fit right into the general female Russian populace. They were fashionable, but they didn’t wear much color. Definitely not red hats and red & white polka dot dresses. I was curious about this woman on the train.
The waiter brought the champagne and set one glass in front of me and one in front of her. He spoke in Russian to her and nodded towards me. I smiled and lifted my glass as our eyes met. I motioned for her to join me, to sit at my table. She was sitting in one of the two-seaters that didn’t have a table. The waiter questioned her and she nodded and moved to my table and sat across from me.
“Thank you very much,” she said with a thick English/Russian brogue.
“You’re quite welcome,” I replied. “Do you live in one of these villages?”
The waiter poured the champagne into our glasses.
“In a village, yes.”
“You speak good English.” I lifted my glass and she did the same.
“Za vashe zdorovye!” she said.
“Cheers!” I replied, figuring she’d just given a Russian toast.
“You are English?”
“American. But I’d love to live in Russian.”
“I would love to live in America.”
“I guess we all want what we don’t have.”
She smiled and took a sip of her champagne. “I was in Paris to see my sister.”
“No kidding? I am going there after I leave Russia.”
“You are going to Moscow now, no?”
“Yes, I am. But I’d rather spend the time in one of these marvelous villages instead of Moscow. I’ve seen St. Petersburg, now I want to see how the real people live.”
“We are a poor people. Not as it appears in Petersburg.”
“I figured that. I walked back away from the usual touristy areas – the city façade – and discovered some startling living conditions, just off the main streets inside the courtyards. It reminded me of Mexico when I was in Puerto Vallarta and went two blocks off the beaten track. It was sad, so poverty stricken.”
“Yes, it is the same in all of Russia.”
“But it’s getting better, isn’t it? You’re able to come and go freely and can afford to do that?”
“I have been saving for five years to visit my sister in Paris. She helped me with the train fare. But yes, some things are better. Yes.”
I could see the sadness in her eyes as she attempted to convince herself and me that life was better than it had been in Russia. I knew what the average wages were; I had talked to several people in St. Petersburg about it. It leads the Ukraine and Afghanistan with around $220 per person per month. The monthly wage is barely $25 in Afghanistan. So I knew already what she probably made a month, at the most, and being from a small village, unless she worked in a factory near or in the city, she probably made even less. Maybe she didn’t work at all. Maybe her husband brought home the bacon.
And here I had been thinking that I could finally wear my full-length white mink coat here in the winter if I lived here. Now I was thinking that it probably wouldn’t be gracious to wear it in one of these small villages. No, no mink coat. Anyway, the activists were crusading to get all the Russian women to shed their fur coats for man-made fur, same as in the States. Years of being the fur capital of the world was now on the brink of change in Russia.
I wondered what this woman would do with the $20,000 I spent on my mink coat. Of course that was a few years ago, who knows what the coat would cost now. I’d never forget Julie Christie and the fur coats in Doctor Zhivago. My fascination of Russia as well as fur coats, went back long before Zhivago, though. I’d read most of what Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy had written. I even wrote a play with Russian characters – my first play. Ingrid Bergman in “Anastasia” was superb. Chekov’s stories were fascinating. Yes, I’d been drawn to Russia and everything about Russia for quite some time.
“What is your name?” I asked the woman.
“No way! You’re kidding. Really?”
She looked at me curiously, wondering why I reacted as I did.
“I mean, well, I’m very familiar with the Czar Nicholas and Caterina story. Their daughter Anastasia, you know.”
“Oh yes. A fable. Yes.”
“You think so? You don’t think she escaped?”
“No. She was executed with her family.”
“Oh dear. I prefer to believe she lived.”
Anastasia smiled at me, probably thinking, crazy, gullible American. She took a sip of champagne and then asked, “What is your name?”
“Della. Della Doheny. I’m Irish. Or rather my grandparents were, and my parents, so I guess that makes me Irish.” I took another sip of the bubbly. “What is the name of your town?”
“It is a small village south of Rybinsk. You know Rybinsk? A beautiful city. I take a train from Moscow to go to Rybinsk. My brother lives in the next village, I’m going to visit him before I go home.”
“A sister in Paris, a brother near Moscow, nice places to visit, yes?”
“Paris is nice.”
She began sipping her drink again, not commenting on Moscow. She looked out of the window, her thoughts seeming to drift to somewhere else. Maybe it was the Russian way, but she offered no more information than she felt was safe to divulge. If I lived in Russia, I’d have to learn how to do that. Normally I tell everything about everything, my thoughts are an open book and so is everything else. Motor mouth, some might call it. I suppose one might say it is a writer’s curse to bear. “Does your brother have a big family?”
“No, he is not married.”
“He is younger than you?”
“No, he my oldest brother. He never married.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Four sisters, two brothers. My youngest brother lives in Switzerland and my youngest sister is in Paris. The rest are still here in Russia.”
I listened as she went on to tell me about her family, how her mother and father had been killed when terrorists blew up a bus in the Ukraine, how her husband had been killed in the war in Afghanistan, and how she was glad she hadn’t had any children. She told about her oldest brother and how he looked after the family and had a lucrative business in Moscow and held the family together.
I liked Anastasia. She was a sweet person and showed no animosity or anger over life’s obstacles that had been thrown across her path. She was a seamstress in her small village, did piece work for a sewing factory in Rybinsk. She had designed the dress she was wearing and had been to Paris to show her designs to the owner of the retail designer shop her sister managed. She said she felt that the meeting was positive, and although no deals were made, she felt something would come of it. I admired her tenacity and positive outlook. Traveling all that way to Paris by train had to be utterly exhausting, and she was as cheerful as one could be. I had to hand it to her; I don’t know that I would have been as cheerful after such a long train trip.
“Would you like to join us for a meal before you go to Moscow? My brother is preparing the food and I am certain there will be plenty. Other village people will be there to welcome me.”
“Do you think that would be alright? I mean, I wouldn’t want to intrude on your private time with your brother.”
“Yes, I am sure he will be pleased.”
“I would love to. Oh, this is so exciting! You have no idea. Thank you so much. A real Russian village?”
Anastasia laughed. “Yes, a real Russian village. Like the one we passed a few moments ago.”
I stepped off the train and reached back for my bags that I had set near the door. Another passenger beat me to them and lifted them to the platform with ease. “Thank you so much,” I said as he stepped back on the train and got his own bags. One thing I found was that the people in Russia are polite and helpful, especially in the train stations.
I turned to see Anastasia hugging one of the most handsome, tall, rugged men I’d ever seen in my life. Good God! That is her brother? I felt like I had stood there forever, staring at the man. They came towards me ...