3 - Him
Olga accompanied Elena to work, and sometimes back, because it made sense. They lived in the same household after all. But then, Dmitry began chaperoning her. Elena couldn't recall when, or why. Likely, she just let it happen. The guy escorted her to work once, and eventually it became a regular occurrence, a tradition.
If an artist visualized Elena's feelings as Dmitry intercepted her in the morning, and put it on canvas, the painting wouldn't invoke a positive impression. Nothing but various shades of black trapping a woman. Screaming.
Elena's blood ran cold at the sight of his athletic form in a black leather jacket, fake diffidence plastered on his face as he approached. Dmitry was handsome, a very good catch, by anyone's measure. Elena didn't care what others thought. Her greatest dream in the world was for this not to happen; not to have him near; not to have him hold her hand, stake his time to see her later. Yet, each time he approached, Elena smiled and let him take her hand.
It was impossible. Unnatural. A young woman spurning the company of a handsome and chivalrous young man. But Elena was a lump of hot iron steaming in water: so angry she was. Dmitry held her gently but firmly. His hand engulfed hers. He was the man, the suitor. He was programmed. Elena wished he'd detach from her. Let her free. When they didn't need gloves, Elena felt Dmitry's sweaty palm. He feigned embarrassment. Like, sweat was the problem. Still, he never let go. Elena was his.
They would eventually get to their workplace, but that didn't free Elena from Dmitry. He worked a few floors below her. He was always near. Could pop up at any moment. Demanded her attention. Commandeered her time. If they arrived before anyone else in Elena's department, he pinned her to wall. She was trapped, his face in hers, his eyes digging at her, his hands reaching, restraining her. Elena counted seconds. Finally, a coworker might clatter into an adjacent office. Only then, would he leave.
As usual, when Elena left for work, Dmitry intercepted her. That day was no different, and hand in hand, he oversaw her safely to their workplace, up the elevator, and into her office. Dmitry was lucky that day, Elena wasn't: they were there before anyone else.
Dmitry finally left. Elena had a few minutes at her desk to pull herself together. She stared into space until Sergey, her office mate, showed up. She looked him in the eye, happy to see him.
"Good morning." He muttered.
He took off his coat, hung it on the rack. A few minutes later, they were working on their drawings.
* * *
Elena always knew, her career was secondary to her becoming a wife and mother. Being an architect was just part of the process, a stepping stone on her way to marriage and attachment. Her primary function was to become a vital component of some man's family. It dictated how she moved, how she dressed, and often, what she said. Olga secured Elena a position in her own organization, even in her own department, to ensure she never strayed from her prime purpose.
Everything she dressed in, or smeared on her face, every movement she made was mandated by her mother. The rules ware simple: expose herself within the boundaries of common decency; totter on high heels; always wear makeup, and flirt with eligible men. Acting demure and stupid was rewarded. Olga encouraged anything it took to pass her daughter off.
Somewhere along the line Elena had morphed from a human being with potential and aspirations into what she was now: a meek and pathetic creature that couldn't even walk right. Some time ago, her experience had been completely different. Elena's mother had worked with the firm since the seventies. When Elena was little, Olga sometimes brought her to work, giving her colored pens and seating her at one of the unoccupied desks. Oh, Elena remembered that. Those years of her life weren't merely memories. They were fragments of a different reality. A happy world she had been forced to leave. She would give anything to go back to her Soviet childhood and stay there: the Palace of Young Pioneers, where she was taught crafts; the sports club, where she could become a professional swimmer; the summer camps with their never-ending adventures, all of it was an invaluable and unforgettable experience for Elena. But more importantly, while being a child, she had the right to be herself. She wasn't molded, tailored, reshaped to someone else's specifications, nor was she forced into any role. She wasn't merchandise, displayed in a store window for the eye of a potential buyer.
Still, there were glimmers of light in the dark. Despite the collapse, Elena estimated that their firm still consisted of about three hundred professionals. One of them, from a department a few floors down, told her she worked with a woman called Tatiana, a fellow X-Files, TV-series fan.
Elena didn't waste a second checking this woman out. Tatiana blew her mind. Not only was she an X-Files enthusiast, but the kind of role model Elena had so hoped to find. Tatiana was what most Russians would call, weird. She had no man in her life, and she didn't have children. She simply did what she wanted, living for herself. She had a garden allotment of her own, and built whatever structures she needed there, all by herself. She sensed an ally in Elena, and the two of them became friends of a sort. Tatiana never let Elena too far into her life, but was willing to exchange chat-messages with her via the firm's local area network.
Tatiana's avatar was a green, toothy smiley-face. Elena loved seeing it pop onto her screen during lunch breaks, knowing Tatiana was at her desk and willing to chat. There was no gossip about guys and how to get their attention, and the few men that did come up in chat did so based on personal or professional qualities. They tended to be writers, actors or other unreachables. Elena was walking on sunshine with Tatiana. She could be herself!
Then, Dmitry's avatar popped up in the messenger window. "Hi there!"
Elena's heart sank. She had to be nice, keep him happy. That he imposed himself, literally stalking her, was perfectly reasonable. That she didn't want anything to do with him, was insane. She wanted to scream, pound her fists on the desk. Instead, she ignored his greeting and got back to her dialog with Tatiana.
"Honey, where are you?" He prodded.
Get lost! Elena thought. She stared at his patronizing, honey, wondering what would happen if she just didn’t answer.
It didn't take long. "Why don’t you answer me? I know you are there." Dmitry pushed.
Elena typed, "Hi," to Dmitry, and dove back into her chat with Tatiana.
"Is that it?" wrote Dmitry "Just hi? I want to see you. Can I come up?"
Elena tore herself from Tatiana and typed, "Wait a minute. I am busy right now." to Dmitry.
"It is lunch break. What can you be busy with? Aren’t you glad I am writing?"
"Absolutely, I am overjoyed. Can you wait for just one minute?" Elena got back to Tatiana, finished her thought and sent it.
"What are your plans for tonight? Are you going home with your mom or we are spending the evening together?" came from Dmitry.
Elena was always forced to choose. Only, she had no choice: if she didn't see him tonight, she was condemned to be with him tomorrow. Might as well go through torture tonight to legitimize not seeing him tomorrow. Damn it all! Elena didn’t want to see Dmitry, ever.
"Let’s go to your place." Elena answered. Her heart sank, she was screwed tonight.
"Terrific. When do you finish?"
"As always, at five-thirty."
"We’ve been asked to work until six. Will you wait for me in the lobby?"
No way! Elena thought. "Fine," she typed.
Dmitry didn't respond. Elena stared at her fine, wondering what she'd have to go through after work. Evenings at Dmitry’s we're all the same. Still, she hoped for a reprieve, an unforeseen disaster. Anything that might get her out of going to Dmitry's place.
Olga popped by Elena's office after work. "I'm off. Don't be late, all right?" She was in her coat and bundled up for the cold outside.
Sergey was in the office and that was as personal as Olga could get with her daughter. Elena didn't mind. Better than the usual reprimand to put on more lipstick.
Olga approved of her date with Dmitry. Elena knew that. She was permitted to see the guy a few days in a row. After that, Olga wanted her at home, spending time with her. It was strange, Elena thought. Her mother pushed her onto Dmitry, yet she didn't approve of her spending all her time with him. She once told Elena, "He's had enough of you lately. It's time you took a break from him." Elena had a nagging feeling that Olga saw herself as her primary owner. Anybody else in Elena's life was a competitor, a challenger, a threat. Elena knew she belonged to her mother. And it wasn't idle speculation, it was a fact of life.
Elena listened to her mother's clomping, high heeled retreat through the outer office. The hens, three gossipy coworkers out there, were undoubtedly jealous. If only they were in cahoots with the boss, like Olga, maybe they would be on their way home instead of her.
Elena had a hard time figuring her mother out. She always thought of her as a true friend; as close as a mother and her daughter could get. They seemed to have so much in common. Olga was intelligent, worldly, seemingly open-minded, strong-willed and physically tough. She had achieved so much in life, Elena couldn't possibly measure up. Between her parents, without question, it was her mother, she respected and admired.
It's why the other half of Olga: nasty, conniving, heartless and cruel, made no sense to her. What was driving her to turn her own daughter into a sexual object? Why did she debase her, strip her of opportunity, of her future, by chaining her to a man she couldn't stand, instead of showing some concern for Elena and what she was going through?
In her world, these were questions no one would even consider, let alone, comprehend. Elena's concerns were entirely hers. She was on her own and destined for a future her mother spent her life designing for her. Elena knew that should it come true, it would be the end of her.
4 - Darkness
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