The scariest thing to do in writing is trusting your story, or so I'm learning. TUBE started out as a joke of sorts. I didn't really intend to write a book about a train, but then I applied for the Amtrak Residency, and I thought, "Why not? Easy-peasy. I can do it. I won't win it anyway." But then I I did win, and dammit, I had to deliver. Well, I did. I wrote something-something about an American train, and something-something about Bolshoi ballerinas, and something-something about that train killing those ballerinas. Only the story was not about it at all. The real story was hiding underneath, and I was afraid to go there and to pull it out. I have invented all kinds of disguises to mask it, and so today when I finished reading the third draft of TUBE, I have stripped all pretense and started writing it as is. No mystery. No secrets. Nothing. Just exactly what happened.
Here it is for you. Starting on Chapter 14 (the previous thirteen chapters are gone, but I will borrow stuff from them and insert it as needed), spelling out in the first line exactly what the book is about. Hence the title change. Hence the other changes coming.
Let me know what you think of this. I've never done so many changes to any of my books before, and certainly have never chopped off numerous chapters from the beginning. Twice.
A novel by Ksenia Anske, Draft 4
1. Passing by Tuzlov River, February 7, 1989. Evening
“It’s the penis of my dead father, you know?” Olesya rolled Tyubik on the table, back and forth, back and forth. Her puckered lips made small tooting noises, mimicking a train engine, and for a moment her face was the face of a little girl lost in play. “It’s the same size, about the same shape. And by now, I’d imagine, the same color. How do you put something like this inside a five-year-old? Tell me.”
She looked up at Dima.
He sat motionless on the berth across. His armpits prickled with sweat, and his mouth opened slightly. The empty tea glasses by his elbow rattled in their nickel holders every time the car passed over a switch. He grabbed them. The rattling stopped.
“Not that it matters now.” Olesya shrugged. “Not that any of it ever mattered, really.”
She turned Tyubik onto its back, spun the wheels, stroked the black shiny hide, probed the headlamp with the tip of her finger. It looked like a giant roach knocked over, helpless. She smiled and flicked it. It spun around and around, and she suddenly snatched it and squeezed it until her knuckles went white, then set it back on the table, started rolling it. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Dima allowed himself a breath. “Do you...want to tell me more about it?”
Her hand stopped and she looked at him like she saw him for the first time. “Tell you more about what?”
“About what you just said.”
“What did I just say?”
“You said that...I thought...” He looked at Tyubik. “I thought you said that it’s—”
“What about it? It’s just a toy. I should really throw it away already. Enough holding on to it, like it means something. It means nothing.” She dropped it in her lap, folded her hands over it, and looked out the window.
The wind whined in a voice of a beaten child and the wheels clicked away the kilometers. They were racing down a steep ravine, its walls dark and tall and pitted, the sky above it grey, the air cold, the snow blackened and frozen.
“Tanechka came to see me yesterday.”
Dima gave a little start. “What?”
Olesya looked at him without blinking. “You asked me to tell you what happened last night, so I’m telling you. Tanechka came to see me.”
“Tanechka? Who’s Tanechka?”
“My dead sister.”
“I didn’t...know you had a sister. You never told me.”
Olesya shrugged. “There’s nothing to tell, really. She died before I was born.”
“Oh, please. What’s there to be sorry about? I never knew her. I only saw her in photographs.”
Dima lifted the tea glasses from the holders, stacked them, set them on the table, smoothed the tablecloth and watched his hands for some time sitting perfectly flat, his fingers long and slender. “You mean, she came to see you in a dream?”
“No.” Olesya gave him a long look. “No. I mean, she came to see me.”
“Listen. You asked me to tell you what happened, and I’m telling you. If you’re not interested in listening, then I’m not interested in continuing this conversation. Really, it’s easier not to say anything. No one ever listens, anyway. Or they do, but they don’t believe me. So what’s the point in talking? Tell me.” Her eyes opened wide, and Dima noticed they were the same grey as the nickel holders, maybe a little more blue in them, her pupils dark holes.
“Are you, really?” She waited.
“Yes, I am.”