Let me start by saying this: Make art. Make art. Make art. And in the words of Neil Gaiman, "Make good art." Art saves lives. Art gives us reason to continue breathing. Art heals. Art inspires. Art helps us process anything. Anything. Anything at all. Art gives us a way to pull through the worst. And when the worst is over, art helps us celebrate and enjoy the best. Now as never before art is what will carry us through.
Writing TUBE forced me into one of the worst of my fears: facing my father again. I was terrified of doing it. I wrote anything but what I needed to write. I almost quit writing it. I trashed every single one of the previous drafts. This draft—draft number five—is at last what I wanted to say, to myself, to the little girl about five years old who was so terrified, she held me frozen and wouldn't let me go into her memories. I had to coax her. I had to ask her permission. I had to hold her hand. Together we had to find a way to go back into the closed, scary rooms, and come out the other end, complete. Yes, writing TUBE has reunited me with that little girl. I distinctly remember the moment when it happened, and it's described in the book, and it made me weep. It was good weeping. It was healing.
And the work is not over yet. This draft is still a bit messy—I have to figure out locations and times (switched train routes mid-draft), decide on how many or how few Russian words to use (please tell me how it feels, overwhelming or not, reading them), clean up dialogue (some of it is still surfacy), finesse style, and so on. I figure, I will need another draft of revisions, and another draft of polishing before it goes to Sarah for editing. In the meantime, I'll be working on the summary for Janna. Once that is done, and you send me your feedback, I will start revising TUBE.
You can download the PDF file of it, or email me for the Word file (or text file, if you prefer).
Oh. And there is one curious thing about this book: the chapters can be read in any order—they’re complete mini-stories, like the stories you hear from people when traveling on the train. Try it and tell me how it reads out of order. As always, here is the opening.
TUBE: Trans-Urban Blitz-Express
A novel by Ksenia Anske
TRAIN 29 FROM MOSCOW TO SIMFEROPOL
5 FEBRUARY 1989
TUBE slipped out of Dima’s boxers and aimed its head at Olesya. The headlamp lit up bright golden. The whistle blared three times, and the wheels started spinning, picking up speed, riding invisible tracks. The whine of the little gears hurt Olesya’s teeth. She clutched at the sheet; her palms broke into sweat, her eyes focused on the toy; the rest of the kupé blurred out. TUBE moved at her, the beam of its eye pointed between her legs.
Dima stopped a breath away from Olesya. His naked body didn’t have a gram of fat on it, ropy and wiry from years of ballet practice. His skin goosed despite the heat turned up to near cooking. All color drained from his face. He traced her stare to his groin, yanked up his boxers.
The train heaved and jolted, swinging around the curve, and the cold gray light was cut off by the dark.
Olesya raised her eyes. “It’s back.”
“I can see that.” Dima swung his legs off the bunk.
“It’s back,” she repeated. “It came back, Dima. It’s after me. It knew where to find me.”
He flexed his toes, looked back up. “It's not funny anymore, you know.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh no, no-no, I'm not laughing.”
“Why not? Go ahead.” He studied her, his body tense. “It’d be a welcome reprieve.”
She sat still, a perfect replica of her porcelain ballerina figurine, once broken to bits and painstakingly glued back together. “It’s back.” She shook her head. “Oh, I can’t stand this. I hate this. I don’t remember. I just. Don’t. Remember.”
The train raced out of the tunnel.
The light made Olesya blink. “It’s maddening!” she cried.
Dima sighed. “I’m so tired of this.” He picked up his trousers, dragged them up, pulled on the zipper; it got stuck. He cursed under his breath.
“I remember the name, though.” Olesya looked straight at him. “Listen. It’s called Trans-Urban Blitz-Express, TUBE for short.”
Dima paused at the door. His smooth, narrow face contorted with an effort to understand. “What name? What are you talking about?”
“A toy,” Olesya stood, unconscious of her nakedness. Her eyes glittered with a kind of a fever. “A toy train engine.” She grabbed his arm. “That’s it. That’s what it was. I remember now. Dima, I remember!”
He shook off her hand, rolled the door open. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
She watched him, breathless, uncomprehending. Her mouth opened slightly, she tilted her head. Her long brown hair hid her face like a curtain. She swiped it back, tucked it behind her ears.
Dima’s mouth softened. He cupped her face and kissed her quickly. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. I’m really sorry.” He stepped out, rolled the door shut.
Olesya looked at it, frozen.
For a year they’ve tried to make love; they haven't succeeded once. At first Dima was patient, understanding, then he grew distant, then angry. It started spoiling his performance. Alla Borisovna noticed. Natasha did too. Olesya knew it was only a matter of time before Natasha fucked him like she fucked every Bolshoi dancer. Like she told her she would.
“Twenty one years old tomorrow. Tomorrow, and you haven’t been laid once. Not once. You’re hopeless.”
She rammed her head in the door.
“Hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”
She stopped only when blood gushed out of her nose, but not to wipe it; blood has never stopped her before. It was a picture. It came in a flash, for a second, before it vanished.
A man’s hand holding TUBE, its head smeared in red that was dripping down her legs.